Twenty Years of International Criminal Law

On 2 October, The Hague Institute hosted a candid discussion with Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Theodor Meron, president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The discussants reflected upon lessons learned from their respective institution’s involvement in international criminal justice. Dr. Abi Williams, president of The Hague Institute, moderated the discussion.

The event covered a spectrum of topics including major accomplishments and criticisms of their respective judicial organs, the absence of police powers, and the courts’ role within the international community and among member states, particularly in Africa and Syria. | Listen to the event audio

President Meron highlighted the significance of the ICTY, an ad hoc court created in 1993, as a pioneer of international criminal justice. Focused on prosecuting the conflicts of the former Yugoslavia, the ICTY “established the basic guidelines, principles and procedures for future courts,” Meron stated. “It has changed the way the international community thinks and deals with international criminal justice.”

Bensouda underlined the ICC’s importance and impact in global relations despite some criticisms levied against the body’s effectiveness. Commenting on the “disproportionate focus on Africa,” Bensouda pointed out that these situations have been referred to the ICC by the states themselves and reiterated that the permanent court only intervenes after governments have failed to prosecute and investigate.

Bensouda also reflected on the demands from some calling for the ICC to engage in Syria. She stressed that an ICC investigation could only follow the UN Security Council’s political action given that Syria is not a state party.

Prior to the audience Q&A session, Dr. Williams asked each discussant to share one wish that would “vastly improve” functional elements of either body.

Bensouda voiced her desire for maintaining a “tireless commitment and support” with the court. President Meron shared the chief prosecutor’s sentiments for more cooperation among governments and he also expressed a hope for “less politicization” on the global stage.

“I hope we can be guided by the general interests of justice,” Meron said. “And that [the international community] will over time develop greater respect for the rule of law, respect for the institutions and respect for judgments…not conditioned on whether we like a particular judgment or not.”

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