Back to Common Ground Archive


Program 9840
October 6, 1998


Cherif Bassiouni, Drafting Committee Chair, UN Conference on an International Criminal Court

Benjamin Ferencz, Chief Prosecutor, Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal

Don MacKay, New Zealand Ambassador to the UN Conference on an International Criminal Court

Bill Pace, Convenor, Coalition for an International Criminal Court

Marco Perduca, member, No Peace Without Justice

Anna Rubesame, member, International Service for Human Rights

John Washburn, Cochair, Washington Working Group on International Criminal Court

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

JOHN WASHBURN: I think that what has happened here with this coalition is path-breaking, unprecedented; it, for me, it gives a vision into the way in which international relations, particularly on a multilateral level, will be conducted in the 21st Century. The future is here.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, how ordinary people from around the world helped create the new International Criminal Court.

BENJAMIN FERENCZ: I think the NGO presence is quite remarkable. It represents a historical change which is taking place in how the world is run. Civic society is waking up.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

This past summer in Rome the nations of the world gathered to draft a treaty creating an international criminal court. This new court would be a permanent tribunal to try individuals charged with committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The final statute from the treaty conference passed overwhelmingly, with only the United States and six other nations voting no. Now, 60 countries will need to officially sign and ratify the document before the new International Criminal Court actually comes into existence. On previous editions of Common Ground, we’ve taken you behind the scenes at the Rome Conference to learn more about the nuts and bolts of the new court, the objections raised by the United States, and the groundbreaking authority this court would have to prosecute a variety war crimes directed specifically at women. This week we go to Rome again, this time to hear the voices of ordinary citizens doing their best to change the world. As the global treaty conference came to a close this message from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was read.

VOICE READING KOFI ANNAN’S MESSAGE: I would like to recognize also the very important contribution to the negotiation process of the last few years by the intergovernmental organizations and the nongovernmental organizations. The nongovernmental organizations in particular have contributed significantly, setting an example by coordinating their efforts and focusing on the substance of the negotiations.

PORTER: Nongovernmental organizations like Amnesty International, Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and thousands of others, are sometimes referred to as “Civil Society.” These so-called NGOs have played a larger and larger role in all major UN conferences for over a decade. This traditionally involves creating public pressure and staging high-profile media events like this:

EMMA BONINO: I can promise you that it is not easy to stay all night. I know it out of experience, but I…. [voice continues in the background]

PORTER: Emma Bonino, a member of the European Commission, is speaking here at a rally for hunger strikers organized just outside the UN building in Rome where the treaty conference was being held.

BONINO: Call your family just to say that we will not be back for dinner, not even to tomorrow morning for breakfast, and simply join us. Thank you very much. [light applause]

MALE VOICE: Thank you to Emma, thank you to each and every….

PORTER: But inside the conference building even more NGO representatives were playing substantial and indispensable roles in the actual treaty negotiations. [sound of people talking] This is the sound of the main NGO meeting room in the conference center. Here, hundred of people speaking several different languages are working toward a common goal.

There is a huge amount of NGO involvement here. How would you characterize their participation in this process?

CHERIF BASSIOUNI: Well, the NGO have been involved in this process for the last 3½ years.

PORTER: This is Cherif Bassiouni. He’s Chairman of the International Criminal Court Treaty Conference’s Drafting Committee.

BASSIOUNI: They have been an extraordinary support for the Court. They have fulfilled a very important role. They have not only been doing lobbying work but they have produced also technical assistance and as a result I think that they have done a major contribution to the success of this endeavor.

PORTER: There is a very strong NGO presence here. They made lots of contributions. Would you care to characterize the role of the NGOs at this conference?

DON MAC KAY: Well, I think if it wasn’t for the NGOs we wouldn’t have this conference.

PORTER: This is the Ambassador of New Zealand, Don MacKay.

MAC KAY: There’s been talk about a world court for over a hundred years. But it’s only due to the efforts of NGOs over the last 5 or 10 years that this thing has actually got underway. Governments really didn’t think that it was going to be possible to put together a world court. It was NGOs who saw the opportunity and applied the pressure to governments.

PORTER: It seems like there’s almost nothing that the UN can do today without NGO participation?

WASHBURN: Well, the UN was designed from the beginning, thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt and the Lions, Rotary, and Kiwanis Clubs, among others, to function with nongovernmental organizations. And the Charter virtually patented the term.

PORTER: John Washburn is Co-Chairman of an NGO called The Washington Working Group on the International Criminal Court.

WASHBURN: So it’s not unexpected that that would be the case. And of course a great many NGOs find in the UN a, both a place and a program that expresses their highest values and is most congenial to their own programs.

PORTER: Each NGO has a separate base of support. They have a separate cause that they are representing. Has it been, how difficult has it been to keep them all together during these five weeks? And especially the last 48 hours or so?

MARCO PERDUCA: We are very lucky to have Bill Pace from the World Federalist Movement as the convenor, who is trying to put together organizations coming from really, sincerely, all over the world with different background, with different also mandate.

PORTER: Marco Perduca is from an NGO called No Peace Without Justice. More than 400 nongovernmental organizations came together in Rome to form a mass Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Bill Pace of the World Federalists organized the group. Again, Marco Perduca.

PERDUCA: The best way to do that, here for instance, was to organize a monitoring into teams. We have something from 12 to 13 teams who are constantly following the negotiations. So preparing briefing paper for the rest of the NGOs. But also at the same time drafting position papers for delegates. The preparatory process was organized in a different way. So we had, the coalition was organized in regional caucuses or groups, and every time we had a prep come at New York—they had delegates coming over and over there again we had to sort of coordinate the lobbying. But the coalition doesn’t have a position per se. It’s only endorsing the establishment of a fair and effective and independent criminal court. But it gives the opportunity to other organizations to lobby for their single issues where it is victim’s rights, children’s rights, gender justice, or other—financing of the court, or more specific issues. So I think the best way was to give freedom to everybody to act and push for their own issues.

PORTER: Bill, this is sort of a slow moment here in the NGO room but there’s still about a hundred people and they’re all speaking who knows how many languages. What has it been like leading a coalition like this?

PACE: Well, leading is probably too strong a word. Coordinating and being a secretary is more what it has been. But it has been extraordinary.

PORTER: This is the head of the NGO coalition, Bill Pace.

PACE: We have NGOs from Asia, Africa, Latin America, Oceana, Eastern and Central Europe, the former Soviet Union—all areas of the world, all levels and all aspects of global civil society. Women’s groups, children’s groups, victim’s groups, humanitarian and human rights and international law, religious organizations, development organizations. You name it and that sector has been represented here. And we have cooperated enormously well. I mean, we’ve broken into 13 teams to keep on top of the statute. And I think the governments’ reactions to our work is indicating that we did better than almost anybody in monitoring what’s been going on. And of course what was different is that we give our information back into the public domain here. So that many, many governments were depending on the NGOs for the analysis and details about what’s happening in the 13 or 14 meetings that are being held simultaneously.

PORTER: Sort of another one of these cases where these international events couldn’t take place really without NGO involvement.

PACE: Well, of course historically they have taken place. But in this post-Cold War globalized world, it’s unthinkable and unacceptable for this level of a global policy making to occur without civil society’s expertise and representative involvement. And we really, we make all sort of contributions, not just advocacy contributions. Most of it is service. Most of it is helping with translations, helping with interpretations, helping get information out so that the international organizations and the nation-state representatives that are here are best equipped to deal with the extremely difficult policy issues that are, they are confronted with.

PERDUCA: We have spent a lot of time and money to have the, the organization of the Rome Conference. And I think, and this is now a common opinion about all the delegates and governments, that NGOs have played a crucial role in the whole process.

PORTER: Again, Marco Perduca, of No Peace Without Justice.

PERDUCA: Right after the draft statute prepared by the International Law Commission there has been a coalition of a big international organization that since ’95 has followed and monitored all the negotiations. We have organized 10-12 conferences all over the world, starting from last summer. And we have placed ads in the biggest newspapers: International Herald Tribune, Le Monde, and El Pais, some other European newspapers. And we have devoted a lot of time to educate public opinion but also to raise awareness at a political level. Because we are not a legal NGO. And even if we understand and we also recognize the importance of having the, a certain kind of language in the statute, what is more important is decision-making. And decision-making comes from capitals and comes from governments, and to a certain extent also to parliaments who are the ones who are giving the mandates to the government. So, this is what we have done.

We have also tried to help small delegations and delegations from developing countries as much as possible. No Peace Without Justice has a project that is called Judicial Assistance Project and we have provided 35, 37 young jurists and lawyers to small governments. We have many on the Bosnia-Herzegovina, Senegal, Comorros, Congo, Trinidad and Tobago, and many other poor countries let’s call them this way. So that they can really participate in all the working groups and be there and also have the legal expertise that otherwise on some issues it’s quite difficult to find in those parts of the world. So I believe that there’s a partnership here between the so-called like-minded states and the nongovernmental organizations which are very well convened by Bill Pace in this international coalition.

But what we believe is it’s very important not only to have a sort of lobbying inside the building but also things going on outside. A few days ago there was a demonstration organized by Amnesty International. We also had a torchlight march last Tuesday. To which showed up the Prime Minister of Italy without notice. So I think that mobilization, public mobilization, works.

PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground about the role of nongovernmental organizations in the creation of the new International Criminal Court. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

We’ve heard mentioned thus far of three important roles played by NGOs at this and similar events: mobilizing public pressure, lobbying for specific demands, and providing technical assistance for small national delegations. But what motivates individual NGO members to devote so much personal time and effort to these causes?

BENJAMIN FERENCZ: I think the NGO presence is quite remarkable. It represents a historical change which is taking place in how the world is run. Civic society is waking up. And they’re manifesting themselves here as they have in other conferences or in the UN, the environment, and women’s rights, etc. Here, I’ve never seen in assemblies like this, of young students, young people coming from all over the world trying to express their determination that the world as it now exists and has existed is no longer acceptable.

PORTER: This is Benjamin Ferencz. He served as Prosecutor during the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials following World War II. Since that time he’s devoted himself to seeing a permanent war crimes court created.

FERENCZ: The diplomats are way behind the students and the young people. Students are way ahead. Diplomats are still clinging to traditions of the 19th century as we go into the 21st century. They have forgotten that the 20th century was one of bloodshed and misery for hundreds of millions of people. And they still cling to this notion of sovereignty which is absolutely obsolete, and let that guide their thinking. The young people and the NGOs have a different agenda. So I think it’s absolutely marvelous that they are participating this way. And I think it’s a forerunner of things to come.

PORTER: In your experience you haven’t seen this level of civil society participation in the past?

FERENCZ: No. Not which was accepted by the world community. I mean, they’ve been outside marching, sure. In the United States, for example, civil society brought the Vietnam War to an end by just screaming in the streets, “Hell no, we won’t go.” But here they are invited in. It’s never happened. I was invited the first day to make a statement to the assembled delegates. I’d never seen that happen before and I really don’t represent anybody, as I said in my opening statement. I’m authorized only by my heart and my experience.

PORTER: Authorized by my heart. That rationale could apply to many of the NGO representatives in Rome. Anna Rubesame came to Rome with the same goal as Benjamin Ferencz: to see an international criminal court created. Like Ferencz, her life experience was a key factor in committing to NGO work. Rubesame grew up under the tyranny of the former East Germany.

ANNA RUBESAME: Why I am so emotional about this court? It’s because we always thought there should be something like this. To save us from our own little dictatorship in the GDR, in the German Democratic Republic—East Germany. And one of the things that I did, I always believed Amnesty International that had the power to at least put pressure on my government not to commit some of the crimes that they did commit. Which reminds me of something. I always had the number of Amnesty International in my little telephone book, when I was 14. Because I thought, if anything ever happens I could find a telephone somewhere and maybe give them a call. So that particular organization I have great feelings for, before I got here. And they didn’t disappoint me at all.

PORTER: So you are a long-time believer in the power of NGOs and in transnational organizations?

RUBESAME: That’s absolutely right. I had my faith in Amnesty International as the one that I knew at that time. For this conference I also want to mention the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights as extremely competent and effective, as well as Human Rights Watch.

PORTER: Rubesame came to the Rome conference as a volunteer for the International Service for Human Rights, a Geneva-based NGO. She’s also a law student at New York University.

RUBESAME: I feel that the big NGOs, the NGOs who have been working on this for three, four years, they have done tremendous work. They’ve had tremendous contacts that they could work with in order to create this entity. And the structure that they could provide, they were able to influence, at least influence many delegations. For us personally we integrate ourselves into the fantastic team structure that the NGO Coalition was providing. In other words, for instance me as a deputy for one topic, for one particular—that’s the teams were divided by topic—I was part of a topic that was rather confined and small, penalties. But became a little bit of an issue. Because of the question of the death penalty.

I could help the coalition with that. Monitoring what was going on, seeing who the big players are, talking to them, talking to the country’s that seemed to be undecided, clarifying issues. I think that is one of the biggest roles of many of the NGOs, was to clarify legal issues for countries that came here without legal advise, that came here without the resources that many of the large delegations had. And that role was amazing. And the team structure of the NGOs really, really helped this hundred-plus people to keep on top of all these important developments. Without the team structure it wouldn’t have functioned that well. In other words, you yourself could know in the morning what happened in all of these, on all of these issues. And if you are not a delegation with 40, 50 people, like the United States delegation, you would have been never able to do this. So in that way the NGOs could be extremely instrumental, just what he said, just to provide that kind of information and to analyze it and draw from that analysis and brief countries on where this is going. And what this particular development means.

PORTER: Nongovernmental organizations have a greater and greater role in international affairs it seems. Do you agree with that and do you have any comment on this growing NGO movement?

RUBESAME: Before I came to the conference I was a little bit skeptical about what the role of the NGO is going to be like. Because maybe I have from a distance observed previous—not conference but previous involvement—of NGOs, and I wasn’t as excited about their role. But, by coming here and seeing the competence and enormous hard work and the role, the function of the NGOs within this conference, I have to say I totally reversed my previous opinion. Of course there are always things that you could better. But as a whole without the NGOs the conference wouldn’t have been the same at all. And it is indispensable. It has become indispensable. There’s no two ways about it.

And if you had talked to me four weeks ago you would have gotten a guess that that would have not been the case at all. All my skepticism was dispelled by the ideas the leaders of big NGOs have, the coordination among them, which is very impressive when you hear about the bickering amongst them from other places. There was nothing like it over here. Nothing. Not even personality issues that I would know of. Just an enormous coming together of brains that come from, that had the best education, great ideas on how to influence the delegations that are very, very hard to influence. How to work the public opinion, or how to get back to public opinion back home so that in turn there could be put pressure on the government. That whole structure is such an enormous apparatus that has been built up by so many people that I think it’s an enormous power.

Now, finally, where, and from what I’ve heard from the veterans—we’re just new to this process and we came here with big skepticism—what I’ve heard from the veterans is that this is the first time it has worked so well. And if this has been the first time then the next time it’s going to work even better because people are going to learn from what they’ve done over here.

PORTER: Those veterans of the NGO movement referred to by Rubesame came together for a press conference just 24 hours before the final vote on the Court treaty. This again is Bill Pace.

PACE: In the coalition there is a diversity of opinion about the statute that is to be presented by the Bureau as the compromise package proposed statute.

PORTER: Many NGOs hoped the final treaty would create a stronger court, one with more of a free hand to bring suspects to justice.

PACE: There is, however, amongst all members of the coalition very serious disappointment that the jurisdiction article was weakened and there’s very serious disappointment that governments will be allowed to opt out of war crimes.

PORTER: As we come up to the last days of the conference here, will there by NGOs that are disappointed with what happens here?

WASHBURN: Oh yes, I think almost all NGOs will be disappointed because this is a process of compromise.

PORTER: Again, John Washburn.

WASHBURN: The kinds of visions that you entertain early on for something like this are bound to have some of the edges rubbed off. I think that’s an inevitable process. I think that some will be more disappointed than others because frankly I think that the pragmatism of some will be greater than those of others.

CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENT: Thank you. The result of the voting is as follows: In favor: 120; Against: 7; Abstentions: 21. The statute is adopted. [sound of cheering and applause].

PORTER: NGO disappointment over the Court’s imperfections seemed to fade, at least momentarily, when the final vote was announced. Both the Court and the positive NGO role were seen as clear victories.

PACE: Well, I think this is one of the greatest days for the replacement of the rule of force and anarchy with the rule of law in international affairs. And it’s a great advance for international democracy.

PORTER: This again is Bill Pace.

PACE: In the end the P-5 were completely voting against each other on a fundamental issue of world peace and security. And this was good. Countries now are looking at issues individually and they’re voting independent of what was the power arrangement, but more what was the right thing to do. And this is for the first time, we’re moving into another century with a new institution that might prevent millions of deaths that occurred in this century. So….

PORTER: Where are the NGO fingerprints in all this?

PACE: In fact, every step of the way, from the beginning of the resolution to create an ad hoc committee on the establishment of the court to the Preparatory Committee, to the resolutions establishing the treaty conference, and we’ve been here every single day, every minute, every hour, fighting for this. Of course we want a better court. We wanted a stronger, more independent court, but we do have a new world court that will hold individuals responsible for international, the worst kinds of international crime.

WASHBURN: Oh, I think the NGO fingerprints are all over the place.

PORTER: Again, this is John Washburn.

WASHBURN: Ranging from women’s issues through the question of the independent prosecutor, to the absence of the death penalty, to significant areas on the extent, the jurisdiction of the Court, and in the acceptance of the so-called Singapore Proposal on the role of the Security Council. The, not only the wishes but the results of the hard work by groups like the Women’s Caucus, the Peace Caucus, the Faith-based Caucus, which had a major impact on the preamble, is all over this peace of paper.

SECRETARY GENERAL KOFI ANNAN: Look at the role of civil society in advocating the establishment of an effective and just international criminal court.

PORTER: Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.

ANNAN: The NGO Coalition for an International Criminal Court brought together and met with hundreds of NGOs and international law experts to develop strategies and foster awareness. Their efforts paid off when we witnessed a signature of the ICC statute in Rome. Again, a key to their network was e-mail and the World Wide Web. Thus, the information revolution has transformed civil society beyond all recognition. It has empowered it to be a true guardian of democracy and good governance everywhere. Oppressors cannot hide behind their borders any longer.

WASHBURN: Certainly the nature of the conference would be very different and far less productive than if there was no major NGO participation. And it might well not in fact have taken place without the NGO participation in the preparatory process from the beginning. I think that what has happened here with this coalition is path-breaking, unprecedented; it, for me, it gives a vision into the way in which international relations, particularly on a multilateral level, will be conducted in the 21st Century. The future is here. In this room.

PORTER: That is John Washburn of the Washington Working Group on the International Criminal Court. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security