As the International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrates its 10th anniversary, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday called on States to "do what it takes" to enable the body to carry out its vital work to advance justice and accountability for the worst crimes.
"As we celebrate the Court's significant accomplishments, we must also acknowledge that there are still many forces that seek to undermine the edifice we have all striven so hard to create," Ban said in a message delivered by the UN Legal Counsel, Patricia O'Brien, to the opening of the 11th session of the Assembly of States Parties, taking place in The Hague.
"In addition, the ICC confronts a task more challenging than any faced by other previous international criminal tribunals: contending with situations of active conflict," he continued.
"This is why it is important to ensure that governments are committed to doing what it takes to enable the Court to carry out its work - from capturing and transferring to the Court those who are the subject of arrest warrants to supporting the Court's proceedings by making information and evidence available to the Prosecutor, the Defence and the legal representatives of victims."
The ICC, based in The Hague, is the first permanent international court set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, entered into force on 1 July 2002.
The Court can try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. The Security Council, the ICC Prosecutor or a State Party can initiate any proceedings, and the ICC only acts when countries themselves are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute.
There are seven situations currently under ICC investigation: Central African Republic (CAR), Cote d'Ivoire, the Darfur region of western Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Libya and Uganda.
Ban noted, in a separate video message for the anniversary, that the entry into force of the Rome Statute 10 years ago heralded "the dawn of an age of accountability," noting that leaders and warlords can no longer perpetrate atrocities, safe in the knowledge that they will never be brought to justice for their heinous crimes.
"Where once impunity prevailed, today there is an ever-growing emphasis on the responsibility of States to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes," he stated.
More than 500 high-level officials attended the ceremony to celebrate the Court's anniversary, including Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the President of the ICC, Judge Sang-Hyun Song.
"As we embark on the ICC's second decade, let us celebrate our achievements and be prepared for the many challenges ahead of us. We all have different roles, mandates and backgrounds, but we have the same goal. Impunity for atrocity crimes must end. Accountability must prevail. Always and everywhere. To succeed, we must remain determined and united," said Judge Song.
The ICC's activities, he added, are having an enormous impact, not just on individuals prosecuted before the Court, but on the tens of thousands of direct victims, millions of people in the affected communities and societies, and several billion people under the legal protection of the Rome Statute system.
The 11th session of the Assembly of States Parties, which meets until Nov 22, is set to tackle a number of issues critical to the Court's work, including the adoption of its budget and the elections of some of its officials.