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Newly Inaugurated Court Advances International Justice

CONTACT: Connie Nelson

ATLANTA, GA….Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has hailed the International Criminal Court, formally inaugurated March 11 in The Hague, as a "watershed in our collective struggle for justice in the world."

In congratulatory letters to each of the Court's 18 judges, who were sworn in during the ICC's inaugural session, President Carter wrote that the historic ICC elections "bring us all one step closer to realizing the vision of establishing a permanent court to address the most heinous crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes." The ICC's first bench of judges-seven women and 11 men-were elected in February by the Court's 89 member states.

"In the months ahead," President Carter wrote, "the world will be watching developments at the ICC very closely" and the court's first cases will "define a new era in the global rule of law, deterring atrocities and increasing accountability for the gravest crimes." He also noted that "societies and peoples most at risk will rely on you."

Since 1994, President Carter and The Carter Center have been outspoken advocates of the establishment of the ICC, sending representatives to the Rome conference that prepared the ICC treaty and collaborating with other nongovernmental organizations to build support in the United States and globally.

The ICC was officially established on July 1, 2002-more than 50 years after the United Nations first called for the establishment of a permanent world tribunal to hold individuals accountable for the worst crimes - with the signing of the Rome Treaty by 139 countries. Since then, 89 have ratified the treaty.

The court is not limited by geography or specific time periods, unlike special temporary tribunals such as those in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, but is a permanent body that will deal with crimes committed after July 1, 2002. More than 200 complaints alleging war crimes have been submitted to-date, although the court is not expected to hear its first case until the end of 2003 at the earliest.

According to Ashley Barr, human rights expert for The Carter Center, the U.S. withdrew its signature from the 1998 treaty and has been seeking so-called "Article 98 agreements" with countries around the world to exempt U.S. citizens from the jurisdiction of the ICC. "The United States - a pioneer in advancing the rule of law and international justice - has chosen to work against the ICC," Ms. Barr said. "However, as the Court begins its work, the sight of mass murderers being held accountable will send a strong message about the power of the rule of law and collective international action. Americans recognize and respect justice, and when the Court proves itself, they will want to know why we are not involved."

The next critical step for the ICC is selection of a chief prosecutor during the April 21-23, 2003, meeting of the Assembly of State Parties.

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Read a Carter Center Q&A on the International Criminal Court.

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