H.M. Willem Alexander, King of the Netherlands and H. E. Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, President of the ICC. Photography by Kim Vermaat.
Official opening of the Permanent Premises of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Tuesday, 19 April, 2016.
By Elizabeth Naumczyk.
The new permanent premises of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague was officially opened by H.M. King Willem-Alexander on Tuesday, 19 April. To mark this occasion, the King of the Netherlands symbolically opened a cover containing a text of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty, which 124 states have now ratified. The act triggered a short film highlighting the crimes codified in the Rome Statute and demonstrating how the world is uniting to end such crimes. The Residentie Orkest performed during the ceremony, and a group of children from various regions of the world paid a special tribute to all those building a more just world
The ceremony included distinguished guests who contributed to the programme with their speeches. H.E. Mr Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, H.E. Bert Koenders, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Mr Jozias van Aartsen, Mayor of the city of The Hague, Mr Bill Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Speeches were also given by the hosts: H.E. Mr Sidiki Kaba, President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) and the ICC President, H. E. Judge Silvia Fernandez. Over 350 guests attended the event, including representatives of States, international organizations, the international justice community, the academia and media.
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During the ceremony, ASP President Kaba recalled that his country, Senegal, was the first to sign the Rome Statute remarked: “It is a historic day but also a day of hope for all victims of mass crimes in the world”. “I am delighted that it is here, in The Hague, crossroads of international justice, that we could mark a milestone in the consolidation of our common efforts to make the Court more effective and credible in performing its noble mission”.
Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr Ban Ki-moon said that one could count on the unwavering support of the United Nations in upholding international criminal law and its objective. Furthermore, “The inauguration of the permanent premises of the International Criminal Court is a milestone in global efforts to promote and uphold human rights and the rule of law.”
He added, “It is in all our interest to help the Court achieve its objectives. Its success will be the legacy we leave for future generations.”
ICC President Judge Silvia Fernández spoke of the importance of the new premises for the efficiency of the Court’s daily work and for fulfilling its mandate: “With its innovative solutions, the building supports the judicial mission of the ICC. It helps us hold fair and transparent trials. It helps us protect witnesses and facilitate the participation of victims in our proceedings. In sum, it helps us safeguard the independence of the Court, its credibility, and, ultimately, its legitimacy.”
She continued, stating: “International criminal justice is intended to ensure that mass atrocities are addressed and further crimes are prevented. Indeed the credible likelihood of accountability is key to their deterrence. This mandate is relevant everywhere, even in places where international crimes may be unimaginable today. History teaches us that no country, no region is immune to war, conflicts or atrocities.”
Since the Court’s opening on 1 July 2002, the ICC was located in two buildings in The Hague on the border with Voorburg. By 14 December, 2015 the ICC had relocated to its € 204 million new premises, able to accommodate 1,200 staff and located in the dunes close to Scheveningen.
Designed by the Danish firm Schmidt hammer lassen it was realised by Courtys, a consortium of the VolkerWessels subsidiaries Visser & Smit Bouw and Boele & van Eesteren using the highest specifications of sustainability and concern to maintain the natural environment. It was referred to at the ceremony as the Peace Palace of the 21st century. The building’s objective is to translate in visual form the Court’s transparency, accessibility and public scrutiny. Visitors can access courts from the publicly accessible areas on the ground floor, where there is a visitor centre and café.
The Court plays a unique role allowing for victim participation and reparations and the design includes a separate entrance for witnesses to safeguard their identities from defendants and the public. Witnesses have private waiting areas and facilities and are shielded from view in the courtroom.
H.E. Bert Koenders also explained the essence of the sculpture “The Gifit” by the artist Navid Nuur and presented by the Netherlands to the ICC which is located in the front of the building. It is based on the structure of salt crystals. “Salt issues from intense human emotions: we find it in the tears that come of anger and grief” as well as from intense human effort.
“The Court owes its existence to 2 basic human faculties we all share.” First we recognize human suffering when we see it and second through collective resolve we can shape our societies to ensure peace and justice. He called on states, the UN, regional organisations and civil society to work together to end impunity.
“Many of the most serious crimes are not confined to the territory of a single state. That’s why the Netherlands, Argentina, Belgium and Slovenia have proposed a new multilateral treaty on mutual legal assistance and extradition concerning genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It would greatly contribute to efforts to hold perpetrators to account. Today, I call for starting the negotiations on such a treaty within a year. It could become a building block for peace, justice and development in the world.”
The host State, The Netherlands has much to be proud of and as he Mayor of the city of The Hague, Mr Jozias van Aartsen said The Hague, the city of peace and justice is a growing hub of international knowledge in international and international criminal law.
We can conclude with the remark made by Mr. William Pace that “2016, is not 1914 or 1946. The United Nations Charter and the strengthening of the international legal order in the last 70 years will, I believe, be recognized as unprecedented in world history.
The strengthening of international criminal justice in the last 20 years and especially the adoption of the Rome Statute and the establishment of the new system of international criminal justice in this great Court will be viewed as revolutionary advancement, of peace and the rule of law.”