Every year on 17 July we observe the World Day of International Justice.
The system of international criminal justice came about after the Rome Statute was adopted which is now celebrating its 20th year. The Rome Statute took effect in 2002, upon ratification by 60 States. In addition to founding the Court and defining the crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and – as of 2010 amendments and a vote in 2017 – the crime of aggression, the Rome Statute also sets new standards for victims’ representation in the Courtroom. It ensures fair trials and the rights of the defence. The Court seeks global cooperation to protect all people from the crimes codified in the Rome Statute.
How the International Court Works
The Court can take on two types of cases:
- Legal disputes between States – contentious cases
- Requests for advisory opinions on legal questions referred by the United Nations – advisory proceedings
States have no permanent representatives accredited to the Court. They normally communicate with the Registrar through their Minister for Foreign Affairs or ambassador accredited to the Netherlands. When they are parties to a case before the Court an agent represents them. An agent plays the same role, and has the same rights and obligations, as a solicitor in a national court. However, since international relations are at stake, the agent is also the head of a special diplomatic mission with powers to commit a sovereign State.
Contentious proceedings include a written phase, in which the parties file and exchange pleadings containing a detailed statement of the points of fact and of law on which each party relies. An oral phase consisting of public hearings at which agents and counsel address the Court then follows. As the Court has two official languages (English and French), everything written or said in one language is translated into the other.
After the oral proceedings, the Court deliberates and delivers its judgment at a public sitting. The judgment is final, binding on the parties to a case and without appeal. At the most, it may be subject to interpretation or, upon the discovery of a new fact, revision. Any judge wishing to do so may append an opinion to the judgment.
By signing the Charter, a Member State of the United Nations undertakes to comply with the decision of the Court. Since a case can only be submitted to the Court and decided by it if the parties have in one way or another consented to its jurisdiction over the case, it is rare for the implementation of a decision. A State which considers that the other side has failed to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court may bring the matter in front of the Security Council, which is empowered to recommend or decide upon the next measures.
The United Nations General Assembly and Security Council may request advisory opinions on “any legal question”.
Following a request for an advisory opinion, the Court must assemble all the facts and is empowered to hold written and oral proceedings, similar to those in contentious cases. In theory, the Court may do without such proceedings, but it has never entirely dispensed with them.
The written proceedings are shorter than in contentious proceedings. States and the rules governing them are relatively flexible. Participants may file written statements, which sometimes form the object of written comments by other participants. The written statements and comments are confidential but usually available to the public at the beginning of the oral proceedings. States are then invited to make oral statements at public sittings.
Advisory proceedings conclude with the delivery of the advisory opinion at a public sitting.
These opinions are only advisory and, unlike the Court’s judgments are not binding.
The Aim of International Justice Day
The aim of this day is to unite everyone who wants to support justice as well as promote victims rights. Celebrating the day is a perfect occasion to not only commemorate the strides made toward ending impunity but to also demonstrate a continued commitment to ensuring accountability for crimes that threaten the peace, security, and well-being of the world.