Why Celebrate July 17th?

by Lorand Laskai, UU-UNO Intern Since 1998, July 17th has marked, a significant, if overlooked, holiday: International Justice Day , a day celebrating the ratification of the Rome Statute and the inception of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Dedicated to bringing individuals guilty of the gravest crimes against civilians to justice, the ICC is the first permanent international tribunal. To be sure, the ICC isn’t the first mechanism of international justice; notably Nuremberg and the Tokyo Tribunals served a similar purpose during their time. But being in the precarious business of international coalition and consensus building, these early predecessors filled only brief and specific roles. The International Criminal Court is different. Its goal —to bring to justice the perpetrators of the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community”— is encompassing, and with 117 countries having accepted its jurisdiction, so is its mandate. Potentially, the ICC could bring about a day when heads-of-state, generals, and warlords, alike, tremble at the potential repercussions of killing innocent civilians —a day when the horrors of the Holocaust, Rwanda, and Darfur are only figments of our memory. "Potentially" is the keyword, though. The ICC is still young and malleable. It has by no means solidified its place as a permanent fixture of international justice. The UN Security Council’s inclusion of the ICC in its response to the crimes of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, which has resulted in an ICC warrant for Gaddafi's arrest, is a promising step. Nevertheless, work remains to be done. Most notably, 12 years after the Rome Conference, the United States Senate still hasn’t ratified the Rome Statute and accepted ICC jurisdiction. Also, that the court's success thus far has been limited to Africa has spurred charges of a "double standard." For the ICC to continue to grow and broaden its role, it needs our support. Why, in particular, should Unitarian Universalists support the ICC? Apart from the obvious humanitarian interest in seeking out and punishing those who perpetrate the gravest crimes against humanity, the ICC embodies uniquely UU values, including a belief in a common bondage among all humans. “Conscious that all peoples are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage, and concerned that this delicate mosaic may be shattered at any time,” are among the first words of the Rome Statute’s Preambles. These words shouldn’t be taken for granted. Many pushed against the idea of a common humanity. In fact, these words may well not have been in final text, if it wasn’t for the UUs Elaine Harvey and John Washburn. Present at the Rome Conference in 1998, Mrs. Harvey and Mr. Washburn advised the state parties in drafting the Preambles and pivotally pushed for this firm expression of common bondage. Their success in having UU values etched into the heart of the conference’s document is regarded as one of the UU-UNO’s greatest achievements. This year, International Justice Day falls conveniently on a Sunday, giving us the unique chance to promote the ICC and its mission among our congregations. Here at the UU-UNO, we encourage you to incorporate International Justice Day into your Sunday services. Learn how your congregation can celebrate International Justice Day! About Author: Lorand Laskai is a junior at Swarthmore College studying political science. He is currently an intern at the UU-UNO coordinating FENICC activities and pursuing his passion for international law and human rights.