Eight years after the Rome Statute came into force, signatory states are meeting in Uganda to discuss the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court (ICC) it called into being.
Delegates in Kampala will be weighing up the success of the ICC
When the ICC was established on 1 July 2002, it was heralded as a breakthrough in the fight to bring the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity to justice.
Since then it has opened investigations into five situations in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Darfur and Kenya, and has issued arrest warrants for thirteen people. Four of them are in custody, two have died and the rest remain at large.
Ahead of the Kampala review conference, the court's chief prosecutor Argentinean lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo, said the world had moved a couple of steps closer to ending impunity for grave crimes, but that there is still plenty to be done.
"Basically we are working on cases in Congo, Uganda, Central African Republic, Darfur and now we are requesting the judges to start an investigation into Kenya." Ocampo said, adding that the court is also currently assessing situations in Colombia, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Palestine and Georgia.
US still holding back
In the 12 years since the Rome Statute was first adopted, 111 of the 192 United Nations states have become members of the ICC. A further 39 have signed but not yet ratified the document.
President Barack Obama is sending observers to the review conference
Among those that have resisted the court altogether are Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Cuba and Saudia Arabia. And of course, the US. Washington has long refused to become a signatory and back in its day, the Bush administration went so far as to pressure other countries to follow its lead.
Benjamin Ferencz, a former Nazi war crimes investigator and chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 is fiercely critical of the US stance towards the court.
"If any country violates the law they should be tried, whether they be the United States or Israel or China or anybody else," Ferencz said. "That is what law means, you lay down the law and those who violate it are held accountable."
Good for the US, good for the world
While the Obama administration has not continued with the sabotage campaign of the Bush era, the new president has not gone the extra mile and agreed to join. On the contrary, he remains opposed to the ICC on the grounds that to join could be to subject its soldiers to arbitrary indictments and arrests.
US soldiers in Afghanistan
But David Scheffer, who participated in the original Rome Statute negotiations, rejects Obama's reasoning out of hand. He says the US military stands to benefit from a process that helps to make other countries comply with the laws of war.
"An international criminal court is fundamental force protection for the United States military," Scheffer said.
At the Kampala conference, delegates will be looking at how effective the court can really be in helping to resolve domestic conflicts and how it can best contribute to the prevention of future crimes.
In that vein, last year Ocampo issued an international arrest warrant against Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir. But many Arab and African governments have continued their relations with him regardless.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
Even the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon sent its top two officials in Sudan to attend Bashir's swearing-in ceremony last week following his re-election to a second term in office.
The move was considered controversial among many UN countries and a sign that in the case of Sudan at least, the ICC does not have the power it might like.
Author: Andreas Zumach (tkw)
Editor: Rob Turner