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Celebrating International Criminal Justice Day

Pursuit of Justice for Serious Crimes Continues Amidst Challenges

Members of Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic minority walk through rice fields after crossing the border into Bangladesh near Cox's Bazar's Teknaf area, September 5, 2017. © 2017 AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, file

July 17 marks International Criminal Justice Day, commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This is a moment to reflect on the importance of obtaining justice for victims of serious international crimes. On today’s 22nd anniversary of the statute, as the global rule of law faces challenges and the world navigates the Covid-19 pandemic, the fight for justice continues.

The ICC faces an unprecedented threat after the Trump administration last month set in place asset freezes and visa bans that could be used against ICC officials and others supporting the court. Robust member country support is needed to overcome this blatant attempt to obstruct justice. An ongoing review of the court’s performance, as well as upcoming elections of the next prosecutor and several judges, have key roles to play in strengthening the court.

But the past year also saw significant advances for justice worldwide. In November 2019, Gambia brought a case against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging Myanmar’s campaign of atrocities against the Rohingya violated the Genocide Convention. In January, the ICJ ordered Myanmar not to commit and to prevent genocidal acts and preserve evidence.

In Germany, a landmark trial against former Syrian officials for widespread torture began in April, with crucial support from civil society organizations, Syrian lawyers, and survivors. An increasing number of judicial authorities in Europe are investigating and prosecuting atrocity crimes committed in countries outside the ICC’s reach.

In June, the former leader of the “Janjaweed” militia in Sudan, known as Ali Kosheib, surrendered to the ICC with the cooperation of several member countries and United Nations peacekeeping forces. He is the first suspect in custody on charges of government-backed crimes in Darfur. Félicien Kabuga, one of the alleged masterminds behind the 1994 Rwandan genocide, was arrested in France in May.

At the ICC, judges authorized investigations in Afghanistan – including of alleged crimes by United States nationals – and in Myanmar for alleged crimes against humanity completed in Bangladesh, an ICC member. On July 14, a trial began against Al Hassan Ag Abdoal Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud for alleged crimes in Mali. The ICC confirmed charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic against Patrice Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom.

Despite a challenging global landscape, these strides toward accountability for atrocity crimes show that victims and their supporters are undeterred in their pursuit of justice.

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