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ICC: Electing Best Judges is Critical
New Court Poised to Start Business
(New York, January 31, 2003) When states parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) convene in New York next week to elect the court's first 18 judges, they must put aside politics and vote only for the most highly qualified judges, Human Rights Watch urged today.

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"The court's credibility and effectiveness depend on the election of 18 highly qualified judges. We call on states to set aside the business as usual of vote-dealing. Principle and merit should rule the day."

Richard Dicker
Director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch

"The court's credibility and effectiveness depend on the election of 18 highly qualified judges," said Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program. "We call on states to set aside the business as usual of vote-dealing. Principle and merit should rule the day."

Many elections at the United Nations and other international institutions have been characterized by "vote-trading," in which states agree to support one another's candidates with minimal regard for the individual's qualifications.

"Vote-trading leads to the election of too many poorly qualified judges," said Dicker. "The ICC deserves better."

At the first Assembly of States Parties (ASP) meeting in September 2002, states adopted a set of minimum voting requirements, including fair gender and regional representation, aimed to ensure a bench that is both qualified and diverse. At the election, states must apply these parameters to the field of 43 candidates. There are 10 female and 33 male candidates, 10 from Africa, 8 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 12 from Western Europe and other affiliated countries, 7 from Eastern Europe and 6 from Asia.

"The 18 judges elected will be at the cutting-edge of a rapidly developing system of international justice," said Dicker. "This is the time to find the highest common denominator, not the lowest. It is imperative that states elect the best legal minds and most qualified jurists to fill a skilled and representative bench."

The first ICC prosecutor was to be elected next week as well, but because the Assembly of States Parties has not yet identified a candidate supported by a broad consensus, that election will likely be postponed.

"The ICC prosecutor will have the single most important role in establishing the new court's credibility," said Dicker. "We would have preferred if a highly qualified consensus candidate had emerged, but getting the right person outweighs the need to rush into an election under an artificial deadline. Given the circumstances, we would support a decision by the ASP to postpone the prosecutor's election until the next ASP meeting in April."

The ICC was created to provide justice for the world's worst crimes - genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In the past, when national judicial systems failed to punish individuals accused of committing these crimes, those responsible faced no consequences for their actions. Now, the ICC will provide the victims of the world's atrocities with a place to turn to when national systems fail.

The court is being set up in the midst of a campaign by the United States to undermine the ICC by pressuring states all over the world to sign agreements providing U.S. citizens with immunity from the court. The Bush administration's hostility has heightened tensions with its allies and friends around the world who support the court and its objectives. Eighty-seven nations have joined the Court.

"The election of the ICC judges is strong proof that Washington's ill-conceived campaign to undermine the Court is failing," said Dicker.

The Rome Treaty was adopted in July 1998 at the end of a Diplomatic Conference in Rome, by a vote of 120 to seven. Before the December 31, 2000 deadline, 139 states signed the treaty. The Court will have the authority to prosecute the most serious international crimes that are committed after July 1, 2002. The treaty contains numerous safeguards to screen out any politically motivated cases. More states are expected to join the ICC as it proves itself a worthy instrument of justice.

The court's "Advance Team" is already at work in The Hague creating the technical and administrative infrastructure that the Court will need to commence investigating its first cases.

The 18 elected judges will be inaugurated in a special ceremony in The Hague, the Netherlands, on March 11, 2003.

For more information on the International Criminal Court, please visit