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William R. Pace, USA, serves as Convenor of the NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court. He is the Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy, which serves as secretariat for the Coalition. With the assistance of Rik Panganiban. (More on:


William R. Pace

Ben Ferencz, a diminutive, bespectacled elderly man, approaches the podium before an assemblage of 150 governments from around the world. He speaks not in the legalistic and flat tones characteristic of the government representatives that spoke before him, though he is a lawyer and a former representative of his government, the United States. Instead, Mr. Ferencz’s voice is filled with emotion and passion, beginning his address; “I have come to Rome to speak for those who cannot speak - the silent victims of monstrous deeds. The only authorization I have comes from my heart.”
Fifty years ago, Ben Ferencz was a young American lawyer who remarkably found himself as the lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg tribunal, accusing 22 high-ranking German stormtroopers of methodically murdering more than a million men, women and children. Today he came to Rome to call for a new kind tribunal: a permanent International Criminal Court.
For centuries, mankind has struggled to free itself from the scourge of war developing a whole body of law to reduce the atrocities and suffering as much as possible. But how to bring war criminals to justice? Not until the trials at Nuremberg after World War II have guilty individuals been brought to justice on a large scale.
The Nuremberg experience gave rise to high hopes for a permanent international court to punish the most serious international crimes, such as genocide, “crimes against humanity,” war crimes, and aggression. Such a court was conceived as a powerful tool to deter and, if necessary, to bring to justice the future Hitlers, Idi Amins, and Pol Pots, and those who aid them. But even the horrors of the Holocaust and subsequent calls of “never again” were soon lost in the new nationalist, hysteria of the Cold War.
Not until the Cold War was over, after decades of delay, the proposal for an International Criminal Court (ICC) was formally reintroduced to the UN General Assembly in 1989. Rather rapidly, only five years later, a Draft Statute was finished, but most senior international affairs experts still predicted it would take another hundred years to create an ICC, because it raised fundamental issues concerning national sovereignty.
After successful completion of preparatory discussions it was decided to hold a treaty conference in the capital of Italy, Rome, to finalize the ICC treaty. Here the diplomats of over 150 countries gathered on June 15, 1998, with a daunting task in front of them. True, they had a draft Statute, but it included between 1000 and 2000 so-called “brackets”, or language not agreed upon and needing further discussion. Instead of having prepared compromises, nations came to Rome with scores of new proposals. Within 25 official working days more than 100 articles had to be agreed to (over 4 articles per day). To top it all the person many viewed as best fit to lead the negotiations fell seriously ill a few days before the start. The complications were enormous, the prospects of success minimal. The treaty would need innovative approaches to international diplomacy - and the assistance of civil society.
Already in the preparatory process there had been a remarkably high level of cooperation between friendly governments and private citizen’s groups. These groups, more than 800 from all regions of the world and sectors of society, had come together in 1994 to form the Coalition for an International Criminal Court. Members of the Coalition, though diverse in their viewpoints and goals, are united behind the general aim to create “an effective, just and independent International Criminal Court.” The Coalition secretariat has kept both citizens’ groups and governments updated on developments in all relevant fields and helped groups and experts participate in the process.