Speech Verhagen at celebration 10 years Rome Statute

Your Royal Highness, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to The Hague, and welcome to the premises of the Peace Palace, the seat of the International Court of Justice. It is a great pleasure to address you in such a beautiful and inspiring setting. Today, we celebrate the adoption of the Rome Statute ten years ago this summer. Those of you who were present at the time no doubt recall the lengthy and complex negotiations, followed by a breakthrough on 17 July when the Rome Statute, establishing the International Criminal Court, finally saw the light of day.

I say finally, because in my view, it is crystal clear that the world needed this Court then, and needs it today more than ever. The Special Tribunals created since the 1990s are indeed instrumental in serving justice. They too address the most serious crimes. But their function is by definition temporary and limited. The ICC is a permanent Court – it is here to stay. And the world should be extremely grateful for that.

The establishment of this Court sends a clear signal that impunity is not an option. Perpetrators of serious international crimes know that they will be held accountable for their deeds; the world will not allow them to go unpunished. Fighting impunity is part and parcel of the Netherlands’ human rights policy. I have given human rights a central place in our foreign policy, because I believe it is important that we stand up for universal values that were agreed upon sixty years ago, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. Human rights apply to everyone, always and everywhere. And they surely also apply to the victims of international crimes as defined by the Rome Statute!

The ICC shoulders a heavy responsibility, vis-à-vis both victims and society at large. It is an essential player in reconciling justice and peace. And in doing so, it relies on the cooperation of states.

I take great pride in the fact that the Netherlands has been able to assist the ICC in its early years. And we will most definitely continue our support: it is fully in line with our constitutional obligation to promote the international legal order.

In many respects the drafters of the Rome Statute can look back on the successful implementation of the Statute. Two of them deserve to be mentioned by name: the current President of the Court, Philippe Kirsch, and former Dutch Legal Adviser Adriaan Bos. May I express my sincere appreciation to both of you − you have helped the international community take an important step forward.

There is no doubt that the Court has faced challenges. We only need to read this week’s newspapers about the case against Mr. Lubanga to comprehend the magnitude of some of them. Yet I am positive that the Court will manage to meet these challenges, and will only grow stronger as a result.

The Court and its achievements cannot be considered in isolation. The Rome Statute established more than the ICC. It established an international criminal law system that is built around the Court, but which gives crucial responsibility to states. States created the system and states must make it work. The primary obligation to investigate and prosecute international crimes rests on them. Moreover, they have a crucial role to play in assisting the Court, notably by surrendering suspects and collecting evidence. Some states, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo and Belgium, have shown strong support for the Court by making arrests and transferring persons to The Hague. I applaud them for such cooperation.

Many other states have adopted, or are about to adopt, implementing legislation to ensure that there are no legal obstacles to supporting the Court − so that they too can be ready to assist the ICC. This is a positive development.

At the same time, however, States are perhaps the weakest link in the criminal law system. Young though the Court is, we have already witnessed how this can cripple the system. Prosecutor Ocampo will no doubt remind us that recently he again had to report to the UN Security Council about the failure of the government of Sudan to execute ICC arrest warrants. This is simply unacceptable: the Sudanese government should not be allowed to offer protection to two of its citizens who are allegedly responsible for the most heinous crimes in Darfur. Such disrespect is a slap in the face of the ICC, the Security Council, the international community as a whole and, above all, the Sudanese people. When I was in Sudan last February, I called upon president al-Bashir to cooperate with the ICC, but to no avail.

Together we will now need to put strong pressure on the defiant Sudanese government and look for new ways to make that pressure effective. Two weeks ago, the European leaders expressed their deep concern about the lack of cooperation with the ICC. If this lack of cooperation persists, the EU will contemplate additional measures. I would be in favour of stronger sanctions against the Sudanese government.

I am also concerned about the situation in Uganda, where ICC arrest warrants are outstanding. The Netherlands sponsored the peace negotiations in Uganda; however, justice must not be compromised. Unless there are prosecutions at the national level that withstand scrutiny by the Court, the Court must in principle be able to prosecute those who are suspected of international crimes.

Another concern I have is the question of how we bring international terrorists to justice. I know that this is not at the moment directly related to the ICC, but perhaps you will allow me to dwell on it for a minute. It is, after all, a very pertinent issue. In the first place, there is an obligation on states to ensure that their domestic legal system is capable of addressing terrorist acts – in particular the type of terrorism we see today.

It is clear in my mind that we do not wish to see a situation in which suspects are held in circumstances that resemble Guantánamo Bay. I have always argued with the US administration in favour of closing down this facility, because of the legal vacuum in which suspects are detained, as well as the misinterpretation of international humanitarian law and the human rights violations committed against them.

However, protesting against Guantánamo Bay does not discharge the international community from the responsibility to devise a system that does deal, in an effective way, with those suspected of terrorist acts. It is obvious that not all the issues arising from present-day practice are being addressed satisfactorily. So the question is: how to design a more effective system?

I would be glad if the international community would finally agree on a definition of terrorism, so that we could break the deadlock in the negotiations on the UN Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism. These negotiations have been at a standstill for years, yet it is vital for us to make some serious headway, to demonstrate the resolve of the international community to combat terrorism.

One possibility could be to bring terrorist suspects before the ICC, in situations in which the crimes qualify as crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC, such as crimes against humanity. The Rome Statute would allow for such an interpretation. I would like to see the masterminds of international terrorism, people like Osama bin Laden, brought before a court of law. If domestic jurisdiction is not adequate, we may need to make use of the potential of the ICC.

I know there are many questions that yet need to be answered, but I urge us all to take on these challenges: we all need to think creatively: politicians, legal experts, NGOs. In order to further this process, the Netherlands is establishing an Anti-Terrorism Institute.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Apart from strengthening the system from within, we must continue to broaden it, by striving for universal ratification of the Rome Statute. To date there are no fewer than 106 states parties. But we must continue to urge others to sign the Statute, for example by offering technical assistance. The Netherlands works closely with NGOs that are active in this field.

We must also reach out to other states, including the United States and other powerful countries. On this point, I am glad to note a recent change in the tone taken by the US. The United States increasingly seems to accept that the Court is a fact and that it has an important role to play. For the Court to be effective, it needs strong players like the US. We should encourage the US to look hard at the trust its allies have put in the ICC, and persuade the Americans to take pride in joining the ICC system. The US strongly supports efforts to end impunity through other international criminal courts and tribunals – to do so is fully in line with their values and traditions. We should call on them to do the same for the ICC.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We should remind ourselves that the ICC has only been operational for six years. In terms of world history, this is no more than a moment. We can be proud of what has been achieved, but we should also be realistic in our expectations: this is still an early phase in the Court’s long life.

The States Parties’ review conference, in 2010, will offer a good opportunity to take stock of the ICC’s achievements and consider ways to increase its effectiveness. For now, I would like to congratulate the international community on the first ten years of the Rome Statute, and wish the Court and its staff well for the future. The Netherlands stands ready to continue its support, as host country, and as a firm believer in the aims of the ICC.

Thank you.