The road to justice: 20 years of the International Criminal Court (Wopke Hoekstra)
This article was published in Dutch on LinkedIn by Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs on 1 July 2022. Shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, anyone who uses Twitter will undoubtedly have seen a picture of a road sign on their timeline, modified to show all arrows pointing towards The Hague. Or more specifically, towards the International Criminal Court.
This sign reflects a powerful and deep-rooted belief that the road to justice is not a matter of choice. That there is no place in our world for impunity and that, whichever direction you take, the final destination will always be justice. There is no avoiding it. This belief has broad support not only among victims, but also increasingly among the international community.
Twenty years ago it was this strong belief that prompted the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC): the first permanent court tasked with trying individuals suspected of the most heinous international crimes. Our country is committed to the cause of justice and is proud to host the ICC.
The ICC is a last resort; primarily it is the States Parties to its founding Rome Statute who are responsible for prosecution. By signing up, countries also accept the responsibility of working with the other States Parties to try those accused of grave international crimes. And that is one of the key accomplishments brought about by the founding of the ICC: the 123 States Parties have implemented major criminal law reforms enabling them to try suspected perpetrators of international crimes.
So in that sense, the road sign does not really tell the full story. The road to justice does not necessarily lead to The Hague; equally, it can lead to any of the 123 States Parties. To the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, whose own courts have already tried countless war criminals. To Uganda, where the High Court, acting independently, has successfully conducted war crimes trials. And the Netherlands too is working to track down war criminals here. For instance, in recent years individuals have been convicted in our country of committing international crimes in countries such as Rwanda, Afghanistan, Syria, Liberia and Iraq.
Twenty years after its founding, the ICC is entering a defining period. It will play a key supplementary role in prosecuting individuals suspected of committing international crimes in Ukraine. This is a role to which the ICC is well suited, precisely because of its independence and impartiality. And this matters not only to every victim of serious international crimes; it matters to us all.
It is clear that the road to justice is not always smooth. The problems it entails are not encountered by the ICC alone. The burden of proof is heavy and strict requirements apply. Arresting and extraditing suspects is no easy task. That is why I attach such importance to the international conference being held by the Netherlands on 14 July, aimed at ensuring that the perpetrators of the gravest crimes in the Ukraine are held to account. And, for example, that evidence collected can be used in criminal proceedings.
I am convinced that the ministers in attendance – who share the same deep-rooted belief that motivated the international community 20 years ago – will endeavour to provide the ICC with the maximum possible support in these efforts. Because where there’s a will, there’s a way. And that applies, too, when the destination is justice.