Ten Years On, Reflections on the Impact of the Rome Statute

July 1, 2012 marked the 10th anniversary of the International Criminal Court (ICC). On this day in 2002, the Rome Statute entered into force to establish the world’s first permanent, international criminal tribunal.

To mark this milestone, we look back on the ICC’s first decade, and look ahead to the future of the first major international institution of the 21st century. For an insider’s perspective, we invited ICC Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi to speak with us for ICTJ’s latest podcast. Judge Fernandez, an Argentinan lawyer and diplomat, is also a visiting professor at the American University Washington College of Law’s Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.

Listen to the podcast

Download | Duration: 18:32mins | File size: 10.6MB

As a part of the Argentinian delegation to the 1995 Rome negotiations, Judge Fernandez details the progress the court and its member countries have made since its establishment. She points out that Rome Statute contains the first comprehensive definitions of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and details its impact on the national implementation of reforms which aim to enhance local capacity to bring high-level perpetrators to justice.

“The fight against impunity requires that both the court and states do their work together in a common system,” she says. Fernandez says the experience of her native Argentina is an example of the positive impact on society that comes from a national ability to investigate and prosecute past abuses.

“Legitimacy is not only about the truth, but also about perceptions of the truth.”
    Fernandez confirms that the court is in the process of a “lessons learned” exercise to determine how the institution can improve its work. Cooperation is so far the greatest challenge. As the ICC takes on more cases, it will be more important for states and NGOs to provide legal support, logistical assistance, and information.

“The reason the court has been able to work so far has been because of cooperation from states and NGOs,” she says.

However, she cites the ongoing struggle to ensure the fairness of the court’s operations, ranging from the length of trials to selection of cases, but acknowledges that public awareness of how the court functions is key to its success.

“Legitimacy,” says Fernandez, “is not only about the truth, but also about perceptions of the truth.” She believes criticism over the ICC’s so-called “double standards” will only be diminished as the court moves closer to universal ratification..

Recognizing that the ICC was designed to be a court of “last resort” through the principle of complementarity, she warns that success should not be measured by the number of its cases, but instead by the increased ability of national systems to prosecute Rome Statute crimes.

“I think the court has an important role in order to galvanize all these efforts,” she says. “But the work itself, the technical assistance, building capacity, is probably beyond what the court can do.” Fernandez reminds us that 10 years, in institutional terms is very short, and only time will reveal the full impact of the court’s first decade. “Many of what we see as great dilemmas today might just be cured with time and experience.”

Photo: Silvia Fernandez De Gurmendi takes the oath during a swearing-in ceremony as a new judge of the ICC, January 20, 2010. BAS CZERWINSKI/AFP/Getty Images.