During the past century, millions of children, women and men have been victims of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shocked the conscience of humanity. We could have despaired, but instead we established legal mechanisms to ensure that those responsible for such crimes would not go unpunished. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is one such mechanism.
The ICC is the world’s first permanent tribunal for the prosecution of individuals suspected of committing the most serious crimes of concern to the international community – acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. But the ICC is a court of last resort, meaning it can investigate and prosecute only where national courts are unwilling or unable to do so. In other words, the ICC does not replace national courts; rather, it complements them. In international criminal law, this is known as the principle of complementarity.
In accordance with this principle, countries retain primary responsibility and jurisdiction over those accused of committing the most serious crimes. Thus, the prosecution of international crimes is largely ensured by national courts. To do so effectively, however, these courts must be supported by measures at the domestic level, which could be of a legal, educational or economic nature.
First, we could help strengthen the capacity of our countries to deliver justice and the ability of our fellow citizens to have access to it. By this, I mean that we could support rule of law efforts through human rights protection and conflict prevention or, if during or after conflict, through resolution, reparations and reconciliation.
Second, we could support educational initiatives, from primary school through post-secondary education and professional or vocational training. At every opportunity, we should instill the importance of prioritizing education, human rights and development.
Third, we could share ideas, technology and networks to enable people, especially young people, to contribute to their countries’ economic activity. Research suggests that economic activity supports higher standards of living that, in turn, support higher human rights standards.
Because the possible measures vary so widely, as do our own interests and experiences, we can all help advance international justice. Indeed, we can all play a supportive and enabling role in our own countries and in one another’s.
Author: Renée Maria Tremblay is a recent Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court and a Legal Counsel to the Supreme Court of Canada. She is also a 2013 Young Global Leader.
Image: Court room at the International Court of Justice REUTERS