The Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights begins with a profound statement: that recognizing the dignity and equal rights of all humans “is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
These words resonate as strongly today as they did 73 years ago, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. There can be no justice without respect for human rights – and, conversely, justice is essential to the protection of human rights.
The Universal Declaration further recalls that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind”.
The crimes addressed by the ICC – genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression – are examples of just such acts. The essence of the ICC’s mandate is to ensure that such heinous crimes do not go unpunished, and that victims can receive redress for the harm they have suffered.
But the ICC cannot secure accountability on its own. The Court needs cooperation and support of States to investigate crimes, prosecute suspected perpetrators, and provide justice to victims. And, in the first place, investigations and trials should always be conducted by national authorities, while the ICC is a court of last resort.
Through these principles of cooperation and complementarity, the ICC system – currently comprising 123 States – contributes to the prevention of future crimes by demonstrating that perpetrators will be held accountable; either in national courts, or failing that, in the ICC.
To ensure equal protection for people everywhere, more States should join the ICC’s Rome Statute. To deter atrocities. To protect one’s own and other citizens from crimes. And to give hope to victims everywhere in the world that a path to justice does exist.
Together, we can build a more just world, with dignity and human rights for all.