William Pace, Convenor of the CICC from 1995–2019
Reflections from William Pace, Convenor of the CICC from 1995–2019 on 25 Years of the CICC

On the occasion of International Justice Day, July 17, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), an extraordinary global civil society network, is commemorating its 25th anniversary. When I retired last July after serving 24 years as the Convenor of the CICC, it was a very difficult time for the CICC, the International Criminal Court (ICC), international law and international organizations. But nothing prepared me for the awful developments of the last year and especially the edge of ruin during the last six months.

World leaders and experts warn that the coronavirus pandemic is unlike, greater and more dangerous than any global disaster confronting humankind in many decades. We may only be at the beginning of this global plague and its destruction.

At this terrible time, I wish to focus not on immediate challenges the ICC faces, but on a larger, longer-term assessment. The ICC is an 18-year-old institution, a court of last resort that was created to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Coalition’s support in the establishment of the ICC

Immediately after the UN Security Council established the Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals in 1993 and 1994, the UN General Assembly began a preparatory process to negotiate a treaty for a permanent, independent ICC—an initiative begun in the General Assembly in 1989 by the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and other supportive nations.

It is clear in retrospect that the adoption of the Rome Statute on July 17, 1998, was a high point of a golden decade for the advancement of international law at the national, regional and international levels of governance. The Rome Statute was outstanding even among the most eminent achievements of strengthening law and governance in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In this extraordinary decade, new institutions were created for world trade, environment, climate and sustainable development.

The successful Rome Statute was acknowledged by supporters and opponents alike as ‘treaty-making of historic proportions.’ It was also a foremost example of a major advance in international law and governance being established without the support of the most powerful and populous nations. The USA, China and India opposed the treaty along with several Cuba-like dictatorships and tragically, Israel. Only seven governments voted ‘no’ while 120 voted ‘yes.’ The wisdom and political courage of the governments not to subordinate the ICC to the Security Council and veto has been validated a thousand times over.

The Rome Statute was the achievement of a coalition of the small and middle power democracies as well as emerging democracies from all regions. (Indeed, almost all the greatest advances in international affairs since 1989 have been led by such coalitions.) More specifically, the Rome Statute is among the greatest examples of a combined achievement of governments, international organizations and global civil society working together.

Supporters and opponents have all agreed that the adoption of the treaty—and the achievement of 66 ratifications in less than four years!—could not have happened without the critical support of the CICC. And the Coalition itself was a combination of some of the strongest international civil society organizations working in concert with regional and national NGOs from all regions.


For more than 12 years of its teenage life, the ICC has been under attack from a few powerful African leaders, namely, leaders of Kenya, Sudan, and South Africa, who were all subject to investigations. They waged a highly financed and effective campaign that the ICC was an ‘anti-African Court.’

President Putin, President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have vowed to kill the ICC, following discussions about investigations. President Duterte withdrew the Philippines’ accession to the Rome Statute for similar reasons.

In light of detractors and withdrawals, some question if the international community went too far and too fast in adopting the Rome Statute, securing entry-into-force and establishing the new world court between 1998–2003? So-called foreign affairs ‘realists’ and elites argue ‘yes,’ but almost all great steps towards progress and improvement of civilization occur in major steps and historic moments. The ICC is no exception, and its impact extends beyond the physical courtrooms. 

Positive Developments

As I write this, the ICC trial of a leader of the al-Queda-linked military that overran Timbuktu, Mali in 2012 is beginning. He is charged with inflicting, inter alia, rape, torture, forced marriage and sexual slavery on Malians. This week, The New York Times reported that the new Sudan government has decided to transfer accused persons to the ICC.

This past week, victims commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide that occurred during the CICC’s first year in 1995. Another Hague-based tribunal that emerged from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia/ICC processes is investigating a current Balkans leader for crimes from 1998. This positive development reflects the fact that, regardless of years of setbacks, investigating and prosecuting leaders for the most serious crimes wherever they occur has continued.

Enforcing international criminal law and prosecuting individual leaders for war crimes is very difficult and controversial, and this often takes many years and requires substantial financial and political resources. Great powers and dictators will strenuously resist the enforcement of international law on them and their countries. But, despite all the problems, mistakes and set-backs, international humanitarian law has made enormous advancements in the last 25 years, and the Rome Statute and the ICC are centerpieces of this progress.

Fight for impunity continues

Three years ago, two important law professors, Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, published a wonderful book, The Internationalists, a 550-page argument highlighting the impact of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact of 1928, a treaty that was nearly universally berated and ignored by historians and foreign affair elites until 2017. The authors, providing hundreds of years of context, make the powerful and convincing argument that this little-known treaty was a fundamental pillar establishing the post-World War II New World Order.

So might the Rome Statute and the ICC have, arguably, an equal and greater potential in helping strengthen the still emerging global system of justice and the rule of law? Though we and our world on July 17, 2020, maybe facing terrible set-backs on the scale experienced from 1931–1945, the Coalition has contributed indispensably to building laws and institutions and to achieving the kind of thorough internationalism necessary to securing our survival.


Read more on #CICC25 and International Justice Day 2020

Statement: Coalition Turns 25

25 Years Fighting for Global Justice

International Justice Day- Justice Hangs in the Balance in Sudan