17 July 2017 marked 19 years since the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was signed, thereby formally creating the Court and giving hope to the millions who'd been victims of atrocity crimes. The day is celebrated as "The Day of International Criminal Justice," named as such because the ICC is the only international court capable of holding the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide accountable. With its creation in 1998 and start of functioning in 2002, the ICC sent a strong signal to existing and would-be perpetrators worldwide that atrocity crimes would no longer go unpunished.
Since its creation, the ICC has successfully begun several investigations into accounts of war crimes from around the world. The most recent and prominent include the trial of the Lord's Resistance Army leader Dominic Ongwen in last year; the trial against the former president of Cote d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo; and Bosco Ntaganda, a warlord from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additionally, there has been progress in establishing national and regional courts to try atrocity crimes in the countries they were committed, which is a success for the ICC as it is meant to be a court of last resort and should only hold trials when the national courts fail to do so. With these newly established national courts, there would be a deeper commitment to international criminal justice.
However, it is hard not to consider the obstacles facing the ICC, as well, with some even believing these roadblocks to be more daunting now than in the past several years of the ICC's existence. The Court is meant to be independent but must rely on its member states to fund its investigations and trials. This raises questions about how independent the Court can truly be. Adding to that issue is that fact that the Court relies on the UN Security Council to refer cases in countries that are not ICC member states in order to have jurisdiction in these countries. Because of the deadlock among the Permanent 5 members of the Security Council as of late, certain members can prevent countries from being tried when it is in their national interests. This leads to the ICC having no ability to try perpetrators from these non-member states, and thus must rely on the Security Council heavily. This practice greatly reduces the ICC's ability to independently ensure accountability for atrocity crimes.
19 years after its creation, it is clear that the ICC has had tremendous successes while facing critical obstacles throughout its history. Whether the Court's system is perfect is not the question at hand, however. The creation of the ICC remains one of the most crucial and credible steps the international community has taken towards ensuring justice and accountability for atrocity crimes wherever they may occur. Such dedication will only serve to improve the realm of international criminal justice in the future.