ICC President Calls on the United States to Ratify the Rome Statute

Judge Song

Judge Sang-Hyun Song, President of the International Criminal Court

On the 10th of December 2014, one day after the release of the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture, President Sang-Hyun Song of the International Criminal Court (ICC) called on the US to ratify the Rome Statute in order to help furthering the promotion of accountability for human rights violations through effective and efficient litigation of international crimes.

Judge Sang-Hyun Song, elected as president of the ICC in 2009, noted that, although the ICC is not a human rights court in the strict sense, it was created to help protect core human rights and values. “With its mandate to fight impunity for the most serious crimes under international law […] one could say that the ICC is a criminal court with a strong human rights perspective.”

Mr Sang-Hyun Song acknowledged that “the ICC will never be able to stop impunity on its own.” Which has also never been the intention. He added that “it is primarily the job of States themselves to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes.”

He emphasised that the ICC is a court of last resort and that it can investigate and prosecute only when national jurisdictions in question are unwilling or incapable of doing so. In the case of the US torture claims, it seems that the US is indeed unwilling to prosecute the US officials responsible for the torture committed against suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

The ICC President highlighted that deterrence is the overriding, ultimate goal of the entire international criminal justice system. The risk of prosecution before the ICC may be the crucial and unique deterrent that will stop leaders from abusing their position to the peril of innocent civilians.

He concluded his remarks by calling upon the United States to exercise its leadership and influence in international criminal justice, by ratifying the Rome Statute as soon as possible.

It is noteworthy that the final part of his speech is addressed directly to the US. Is this a coincidence or have these last couple of paragraphs been added last minute after the release of the US torture report?

He assured that ratification will not give the ICC any powers to dig up things of the past, but instead will be an insurance policy for a better future. However, this might not reassure the US would it decide to ratify the Rome Statute, as the acts of torture by its officials have been committed from 2001-2007, while the ICC has jurisdiction over crimes (including torture) committed after 1 July 2002.

However, Mr Sang-Hyun Song nowhere refers to the US torture report directly, and instead reasons that US ratification of the Rome Statute would encourage countless other countries to join the ICC as well, which would be a boost to international efforts to protect the vulnerable from the most brutal acts of violence.