International Justice Day 2018: 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute

Every year on 17 July, the world is witness to the commemoration of International Justice Day – a day honoring the historic adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 17 July 1998. In 2018, the commemoration takes on particular meaning as the treaty celebrates its 20th anniversary.

A famous refugee once wrote that the ‘the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’  In celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court we are remembering one of the most distinguished achievements in the history of the rule of law, and the advancement of international humanitarian and human rights law,” remarked William Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. “Like most achievements since the end of the Cold War, it was a product of the partnership between the world’s small and middle power democracies and global civil society. Sadly, it is an advance that could not be achieved in today’s politically regressive and conflict-ridden conditions, but the treaty, the Court, and the new system of international criminal justice remain among the most distinguished instruments promoting peace in the world,” Pace continued.

Particularly in today’s geopolitical climate, such a milestone warrants pause for reflection on the progress made so far as well as sober consideration of what still remains to be done to provide effective justice and redress for the victims and communities affected by these crimes.

H.E. Mr. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has expressed his belief that, “this anniversary offers an opportunity to reflect on the importance of justice in maintaining international peace and security and defending international human rights. Only when perpetrators of grave crimes are prosecuted and held to account can there be any hope that future atrocities will be prevented and peace preserved. People across the world have placed their hopes in the Court and we must all do our utmost to enable the Court to do perform its vital work.”


Indeed, twenty years ago, an overwhelming majority of states agreed to adopt a treaty to establish the world’s only permanent international court with the power to investigate and prosecute genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression. And twenty years later, the International Criminal Court is up and running, engaged in investigations in more than 20 situations, and heeding the call of thousands of victims. However the challenges are fierce, and they continue to grow.


"Twenty years after the adoption of the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court faces many challenges in order to be effective to tackle widespread injustice all over the world. The central role of victims and bringing their voices forward should not be forgotten when battling these challenges, but rather, they should be driving force that helps Court to be successful in its overall work,” states Nino Tsagareishvili, Co-director, Human Rights Center (HRIDC) and chair of the Georgian Coalition for the ICC (GCICC).


In this 20th anniversary year, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights H.E. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has also reflected on the challenges to the ideals of Rome: “The future challenges that the Court will face and must overcome may be far greater than those of the last twenty years. To overcome the challenges of the future, our shared resolve to hold all perpetrators of international crimes accountable, regardless of their position or nationality, must be maintained and even strengthened. Now is not the time for us to abandon the victims of horrendous international crimes. We must rather use the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute to reaffirm our collective commitment to the principles of justice and the rule of law.”




Those same principles of justice demand that victims and affected communities, their rights and interests, are effectively, robustly, and sensitively taken into account in seeking accountability for international crimes.


“There is no doubt that a veritable milestone has been reached with the Rome Statute’s 20th anniversary, but humanity must remain relentless in its pursuit of justice to ensure meaningful redress for past victims and that no one ever again falls victim to such crimes in the future,” stated Kirsten Meersschaert, Director of Programs, Coalition for the ICC.


“The 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute of the ICC is an important day for states to reflect on the promise for justice to victims of international crime in Africa and other regions affected by serious crime. In the recent past, the Court has experienced challenges to its effective operation, particularly a lack of cooperation from certain states and the failure to enforce of decisions of the United Nations Security Council. This has impeded efforts to bring justice for victims in Darfur and Libya, for example,” noted Allan Ngari, Senior Researcher, Institute for Security Studies (ISS). “With the ICC as the only means through which African victims of international crime can attain justice, the onslaught (some nefarious) against the ICC by some African states - some party to the Rome Statute - for withdrawal and repeal of implementing legislation diminish opportunities for justice for victims of international crime in Africa. This day is therefore best commemorated by reflecting on the commitment by states to end the injustice that victims have faced,” Ngari concluded.


Civil society has long been at the forefront of efforts to end impunity for mass atrocities, with the 2500-member-strong global Coalition for the ICC having been created in 1995 – three years before the adoption of the Rome Statute.


“I’ve been involved in the Coalition for the ICC since 1998, and participated at the first Prep Coms and the negotiations in Rome, where the Rome Statute was adopted. Since then, I’ve been involved in campaigning for the ratification of the Rome Statute, particularly in Latin America, but also in Africa and in Eastern Europe. We think that the ICC is a big step in access to justice for victims of horrendous crimes: crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. The Rome Statute has provided important standards for national justice systems so as to implement in their penal codes the crimes established in the Statute. We remain committed to the development of the ICC,” stated Francisco Soberón, Director, APRODEH (Peru).



“During these 20 years, the Court has continued to strengthen its capacity in order to bring to justice perpetrators of international crimes. This has been possible due to the efforts of 120 States who approved the treaty in 1998 and also, specially, to the efforts made by a number of organizations all around the world, around 800 organizations that joined the efforts into the Coalition for the Criminal Court before 1998. The Court must continue to strengthen its capacities and affirming its authority in order to develop its functions,” affirmed Gustavo Gallón,Director, Colombian Commission of Jurists.



Philip Grant, Director of TRIAL International, stated that, “the International Criminal Court is publicized around the world, yet its actions are rooted in a much more discrete process: it starts with individuals and organizations that are unknown but determined to move things forward. Being closer to the ground, NGOs are often the eyes and ears through which crimes are denounced, the first evidence collected, the victims defended and the authorities held responsible. On this anniversary day, let's celebrate the role of civil society for international justice!”


Throughout 2018, people around the world are observing, commemorating, and honoring this historic advance for international peace and security.


In February 2018, the Coalition for the ICC launched its commemoration of this historic milestone with high-level events at the permanent premises of the ICC and at the Peace Palace, with the aim of reflecting on 2 decades of international justice and looking ahead to the future of the fight against impunity.


On International Justice Day itself, high-level events will take place in both the City of Peace and Justice- The Hague, at the ICC – and in New York at the headquarters of the United Nations.


On 16 and 17 July in The Hague, the ICC, in partnership with a number of states, is organizing a two-day event, the Commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, featuring a Mock Trial, a symposium on the Enduring Value of the Rome Statute to Humanity, a tree-planting ceremony, and two interactive sessions on the impact of the judicial process and broadening the fight against impunity.


On 17 July at United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Coalition for the ICC and Parliamentarians for Global Action, are the proud civil society co-sponsors, along with the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Cyprus, The Gambia, Republic of Korea, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Senegal,
Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Uruguay, of the event, 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute: the need for universality and the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. The interactive panel discussion aims to offer a unique high-level platform for States Parties and other international partners to project publicly a strong and compelling narrative about the ICC’s mission in today’s world. The event’s panel will discuss the importance of the activation of the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as well as the need for universality of the Rome Statute.

Check out our list of RS20 events around the world

Nevertheless, the challenges and increasing calls for an end to impunity will continue beyond 2018 as the Court is likely to charter new territory in its investigations and cases, yet still not enjoy universal support – a point echoed by Markiyan Halabala, legal representative of Maidan victims, Advocacy Advisory Panel (Ukraine): “As Martin Luther King said: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ The Rome Statute system must fight grave injustice in specific places to avoid its expansion all over the world.”

Want to know what you can do to help in the fight against impunity?

Join in the campaign!

  • Use the Coalition’s Toolkit commemorating a milestone in the fight against impunity
  • Use the 20th anniversary to get the word out about the ICC and the need for accountability for international crimes.
  • Support the fight against impunity by liking and sharing Rome Statute 20th anniversary materials on social media.
  •  Join the conversation on social media with the hashtags #JusticeMatters, #RomeStatute20, #RS20, #MoreJustWorld and #GlobalJustice
  • Watch and share the Coalition’s collection of video statements showcasing what the 20th anniversary means to civil society as well as high-level individuals from the core of international justice, past and present.