How international justice helps to reconstruct history and why the ICC “is the cause of all humanity”

War crimes are among the crimes investigated and tried by the ICC (REUTERS / Zohra Bensemra) (ZOHRA BENSEMRA /)

“The privilege of opening the first trial in history for crimes against world peace imposes a grave responsibility. The offenses that we intend to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their repetition.”

The judge’s opening statement Robert H Jackson in the Nuremberg trials it lasted about three hours, and is one of the most influential in the canon of international law.

The Nuremberg process marked the beginning of an “International Justice”; the tribunals on the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and the conflict in Sierra Leone laid the groundwork for the creation of a permanent court, embodied today in the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has become the judicial last resort for many countries seeking to investigate and try the worst crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

July 17 is the World Day of International Criminal Justice by the adoption of the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court on that day in 1998, which entered into force four years later.

In these decades of operation, the ICC has made significant progress in making the world recognize the importance of justice. But according to Human Rights Watch, has also experienced setbacks. As human rights crises related to international crimes proliferate, it has been shown that its mission is much more necessary and arduous than was anticipated when it was founded.

“The International Criminal Court is the cause of all humanity,” he tells Infobae Francisco González Centenoan Argentine lawyer and ICC official in Central African Republic who is in charge of the Court’s public information.

Exterior of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, on March 31, 2021 (REUTERS / Piroschka van de Wouw)
Exterior of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, on March 31, 2021 (REUTERS / Piroschka van de Wouw) (PIROSCHKA VAN DE WOUW /)

Its work consists of providing access to justice to the communities affected by the cases of the International Criminal Court through the human right of access to information. “At the ICC we explain how the court works and also the particularities of the cases to the communities of victims and suspects, so that the impact of justice is understood and has an effect on the reconstruction of peace”, he tells Infobae.

If there is no understanding of the functioning of Justice, it does not have a dissuasive impact nor does it have an impact in terms of reconciliationwhich is one of the effects that transitional justice tends to seek and is one of the elements of the International Criminal Court”.

—In two decades the ICC issued few convictions. What are the reasons for this “slowness”?

—The Court begins to fully function on July 1, 2002, which makes it a very young body. We have the third prosecutor since its creation: the first was the Argentine Moreno Ocampo; the second was Fatou Bensouda from Gambia; and the current one is the British Karim Khan. The judicial processes are advancing much faster than at the beginning, when the Court was just beginning to organize itself. court proceedings they take time because judges need to make an informed and fair decision based on the evidence.

Francisco Gonzalez Centeno
Francisco Gonzalez Centeno

In recent years, There was criticism that the ICC only managed to prosecute atrocities committed in Africa. There were also a series of setbacks in the investigations due to lack of cooperation from great powers, which led to several African countries to threaten to withdraw from the court amid accusations of racism. Burundi, which was the subject of an ongoing preliminary investigation, was the first country to leave the Court.

– Is it fair to say that the ICC is very focused on Africa?

—It is very common for the International Criminal Court to be accused of judging and investigating only Africans or that it is focused on Africa. Nevertheless, It is necessary to take into account that the largest number of states represented in the Statute and in the Court are African. Africa is a continent that from the beginning and from the creation of the International Criminal Court has always supported it. That means that the Court has jurisdiction in all those African states that have ratified the Rome Statute, so the jurisdiction is much broader in Africa than in other parts of the world. The second most represented region in the Statute is Europe, and then Latin America. Currently the International Criminal Court has investigations and cases in different countries of the world, not only in Africa. There is a situation in Afghanistanthere is research in Venezuela. There are causes in Georgia. Currently in the prosecutor’s office is investigating crimes committed in Ukraine. The ICC is also investigating crimes in burma, thus, the fact that most of the countries under investigation are in Africa is not so correct. It is a perception. It is real that when one analyzes the causes there are going to be many Africans, but it is for those reasons.

Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba spent a decade in prison for crimes committed by his militia in the Central African Republic.  He was finally acquitted (REUTERS / Kenny Katombe / File Photo)
Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba spent a decade in prison for crimes committed by his militia in the Central African Republic. He was finally acquitted (REUTERS / Kenny Katombe / File Photo) (Kenny-Katombe Butunka /)

It is that, unlike the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the ICC depends mainly on the cooperation of its members: 123 countries have ratified the founding treaty. The Court can only prosecute people from countries that have not ratified the Statute if they commit crimes within its jurisdiction in the territory of one of the Member States, in cases of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

González Centeno is part of a permanent mission made up of a body of five international officials dedicated to supporting all operations that bring to the bench in The Hague those suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Central African Republic. It was Catherine Samba-Panza, who held the presidency of that country on an interim basis, who summoned the ICC to begin an investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in its territory.

—Former Congolese Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba spent a decade in prison for crimes committed by his militia in the Central African Republic. It had been a legal milestone and he was finally acquitted. What do you think of this case?

—Yes, Jean-Pierre was acquitted by the judges of the International Criminal Court. It is important to understand that acquittal is one of the possibilities in justice and it exists in any judicial system or in any jurisdiction. Regarding the decision of the judges, We do not have opinions or comment on them because they are well-founded decisions of judges who are independent, impartial and international. Justice must be fair not only for the victims but also for the suspects. If the judges consider that there is not enough evidence to prove responsibility for crimes that were committed, the person can be acquitted. The fact that this person spent more than a decade in the detention center in The Hague has to do with the stages of the trial, which take due time so that the judges can make an informed decision. Suspects or defendants before the ICC are considered innocent until the final decision, and are treated humanely. In The Hague detention center they have access to education, religious practice, family visits, contact with their lawyers, a healthy diet, etc. If a suspect is found guilty, he is transferred to a prison in one of the Rome Statute states that offers to house the accused within its prison system. If the person is acquitted, he is free. Going back to Bemba’s acquittal, the judges are not unaware of the crimes that were committed, nor do they know the victims. What is not recognized is responsibility. What the ICC judges considered in their decision on Bemba’s acquittal was that they could not prove responsibility, the fact that the former vice president of Congo was in control of what was happening in the Central African Republic.

The ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, has been collecting evidence for almost five months of the alleged crimes that may be being committed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine (REUTERS / Volodymyr Petrov)
The ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, has spent almost five months collecting evidence of the alleged crimes that may be being committed during the Russian invasion of Ukraine (REUTERS / Volodymyr Petrov) (VOLODYMYR PETROV /)

—What do you think is the impact of the ICC today at the international level?

—The International Criminal Court is the cause of all humanity. For the first time in history there is an international judicial institution that investigates and judges crimes against humanity. Previously, the United Nations created courts ad hoc where there were situations of mass crimes. With the ICC, they are no longer created and greater efficiency is generated in terms of international criminal justice, because now there is a single court in charge of investigating and judging. The ICC has a double impact: first, the dissuasive one, which means that those people who could commit crimes are not going to commit them because they know that there is a judicial institution that is looking at them, that can investigate them and that can judge them. The second is the reconciliatory impact, or the impact in terms of transitional justice, because through a judicial process the different parties to a conflict have the opportunity to reconstruct a history, to review the past and the root causes that led to human rights violations and all these crimes.

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