States must arrest International Criminal Court suspects, official says at UN

21 November 2007 –

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has created a working body of law since its inception and the onus is now on States Parties to enforce the court’s decisions, especially its arrest warrants, and bring in war crimes suspects so they can face trial, Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said today.

Ms. Bensouda told journalists at United Nations Headquarters in New York that six arrest warrants – relating to four senior members of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda and two figures accused of war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan – remain outstanding.

She said that even though continuing conflicts present obstacles to the arrest of suspects, the interests of peace and justice demand that States take assertive action.

“Arresting criminals in the context of ongoing conflicts is a difficult endeavour,” she said. “Individuals sought by the court are often enjoying the protection of armies or militias. Some of them are members of governments who are eager to shield them from justice, and this is why we precisely need a very strong commitment from the international community.”

Ms. Bensouda warned: “If States Parties do not actively support the Court, in this area as well as in others, then they are actively undermining the Court.”

The Deputy Prosecutor noted that the ICC’s first trial – that of the Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo – will begin at the end of March next year.

“The Rome system today is in motion,” she said, referring to the treaty signed in the Italian capital in 1998 which led to the establishment of the tribunal. “The Court has made this body of law… operational, and it has transformed ideas and concepts into a working system. The States Parties which committed to the new law are now facing a difficult challenge: this is the challenge of enforcing the Court’s decisions.”

Ms. Bensouda also said the ICC’s existence was having an important deterrent effect against recurring violence, citing several examples. In Colombia, laws and proceedings against paramilitary groups were influenced by the Rome Statute, she said, while in Côte d’Ivoire “the prospect of prosecution of those using hate speech is deemed to have kept the main actors under some level of control.”

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