“The Rome Statute and Universal Human Rights” | AFLA Seminar and Book Launch on the ICC: One Decade On


H.E. Sanji Monageng; Judge of the International Criminal Court. (©African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights)

Your Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

I thank Africa Legal Aid for asking me to be here and to be part of this afternoon’s discourse. The issue of human rights is a discussion that needs to be held continuously.  For me personally, it is exciting to discuss more than a decade of the life of the International Criminal Court, its dream – a dream that has, against all odds come true – the dream to deliver justice to humanity, a justice that is anchored in human rights. I am also happy to be one of the contributors to the book that is being launched, and of course very happy to be among the other contributors. When I went through the articles, I was struck by the excellent quality and richness of thought of so many African minds, as well as international lawyers and practitioners from different continents. By its mere existence, this book demonstrates that the belief in human rights and international law is not limited to a continent, a school of thought, or any other frontier. I found in this book, many new angles and developments in analysing international law, and especially the ICC’s practices. I observed that authors are not content with simply describing the present; in each article I see a vision of a future that should guide our thoughts, and especially how the ICC delivers on human rights.

I would invite all of you as you read the book, to measure the reality of what has been done by the ICC, the challenges that the ICC still faces and the path that is still to be created by the ICC, as it marches ever so valiantly towards a future that we long for and want for future generations.

The status of human rights in that vision will be crucial. The belief in a set of human rights or universal human rights if you like, is a cornerstone in what I perceive as the ethical and moral framework, that should guide every step and every decision that the ICC takes, including judicial decisions.

In that respect, the Rome Statute is a key point in connecting this belief and the future, these norms and their application, and even mere words and the real suffering of human beings. Indeed, human rights are at the heart of the Rome Statute. As I submit in my article, article 21(3) of the Rome Statute, the article that gives the Court guidance on this, states that “application and interpretation of law… must be consistent with internationally recognized human rights…” Therefore the Statute recognizes the pre-existence of a set of human rights, and ensures that ICC decisions will be consistent with it, expanding the applicability of human rights through that mechanism.

It can be argued that the Statute refers to “internationally recognized human rights” and not to “universal human rights”. But the universality of human rights and the cultural sensitivities that some use to reject it – very often for opportunistic and political reasons – are subjects of an old debate. What I note, however, is that while the Statute does not affirm the universality of these rights, the Statute allows the rights to be considered as an important source for the interpretation and the application of the law, based on their international recognition. It is thus not necessary that each and every country recognizes human rights for them to be applied by the ICC, even in cases related to that country. The Statute actually advances human rights in pragmatic and practical terms.

As a Judge of the ICC, it would be inappropriate for me to enter into the details of cases that were or might be presented before Chambers, of which I am part. I  simply note the various aspects of the ICC’s activities during the past months –  with the issuance of various policy papers from the Prosecutor of the ICC (on preliminary examinations, on gender-based crimes and on case selection), which include certain innovative elements such as the environmental impact of certain crimes; I also note the variety of the charges before the ICC including rape, forced marriage, the use of child soldiers in hostilities, attacks on peacekeeping forces or on monuments of historic or religious importance, among others.  With all these international challenges and mass crimes, which are at the very base of the universal human rights discourse, the need for the ICC is obvious and has never been more urgent.

Its role might be limited to sanctioning the perpetrators of mass crimes and deterring future crimes, but that role is nonetheless a key element and cornerstone of a future international order, and of a proper international judicial system. Although the ICC is faced with a mammoth task of fighting impunity, I am confident that the future will deliver the  dreams of people who, like you and me, are dedicated to and passionate about justice, fairness and human rights.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, it is our responsibility, to ensure the success of the ICC, which success should be done within the context of clear, defined and identifiable human rights principles.

Your Excellencies, friends, I thank you.

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