LAW. NOT WAR.
Benjamin B. Ferencz

Lecture

Address by Benjamin B. Ferencz to the Rome Conference on Creating a Permanent International Criminal Court

By Benjamin B. Ferencz
published:June 1998
source:Official Document, UN Speeches, June 16, 1998

I have come to Rome to speak for those who cannot speak - the silent victims of monstrous evil deeds. The only authorization I have comes from my heart. I have spent a long life in pursuit of peace and justice and perhaps by sharing a few thoughts I may lighten some difficult burdens.

Over fifty years ago, I stood in a courtroom at Nuremberg and accused 22 high-ranking German Storm Troopers of deliberately murdering more than a million men, women and children. The defenseless victims were slaughtered simply because they did not share the race or creed of their executioners. I begged the tribunal to affirm the legal right of every human being to live in peace and dignity. It was a plea of humanity to law.

The war crimes trials after World War Two came to grips with the past. We have yet to come to grips with the future. When the Nuremberg principles were unanimously affirmed by the United Nations in 1947, it carried an implied promise that "never again" would aggression, war crimes and crimes against humanity go unpunished. The promise awaits fulfillment.

I have come to Rome to plead with the distinguished Plenipotentiaries to help make the dream of a more humane world order under law come true.

Nuremberg was the beginning of a process. Failure to build on its precedents has cost the world dearly. The Security Council has demonstrated that competent ad hoc criminal courts can be created quickly - when the political will to act is aroused. Now the challenge is in your hands. Independent nations of different traditions can not be expected to have identical views on every point of a complicated legal statute. The time for decisive compromise has come.

Outmoded notions of national sovereignty can not be allowed to block agreement. National interests must take account of international needs. In this interdependent global society, linked by new networks of instant communication, no nation and no person can feel secure until all are secure. The people are the true sovereigns of today and deserve to be protected under a mantle of enforceable humanitarian law that clearly serves the interests of persons everywhere. We must not fail them now.

Ever since the judgment at Nuremberg, it has been undeniable that aggressive war is not a national right but an international crime. Aggression is the soil from which the worst human rights violations invariably grow. States that commit crimes against peace will not punish themselves and excluding aggression from international judicial scrutiny is to grant immunity to malevolent leaders responsible for "the supreme international crime."

Only the Court has authority to determine individual culpability or innocence. No criminal statute need reaffirm existing Security Council rights and no treaty can create new Security Council powers that go beyond Charter authorizations. Careful selection, internal supervision, public scrutiny and budgetary controls provide adequate guarantees that neither Prosecutors nor Judges will betray their trust. They must be given the authority and the tools to do their difficult job.

Universal condemnation and the certainty of punishment for major transgressors can be a powerful deterrent. To condemn a crime yet provide no impartial institution to try the offenders is to mock the victims and encourage more criminality. The time has come for human rights to prevail over human wrongs - for international law to prevail over international crime.

I do not suggest that an effective, fair and efficient criminal tribunal will solve the world's problems. A great deal more needs to be done before the causes of international crimes are removed. More progress is needed in achieving U.N. Charter goals for disarmament, an international military force, social justice and an improved and impartial Security Council. But one thing is sure - without clear international laws, courts and effective enforcement there can be no deterrence, no justice and no world peace. Justice, reconciliation and rehabilitation are vital links to the permanent peace that binds humanity together.

I have come to Rome to support you in your noble efforts. Hope is the engine that drives human endeavor and without hope humankind cannot summon the energy needed to achieve the difficult goals that lie ahead. Never lose hope. Never lose faith. Never stop trying to make this a more humane universe. The aspirations of today must become the binding law of tomorrow. If we care enough and dare enough, an international criminal court - the missing link in the world legal order - is within our grasp. The place to act is here and the time to act is now!

Benjamin B. Ferencz was a Prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. He is a retired Adjunct Professor of International Law at Pace Law School in White Plains, New York, founder of the Pace Peace Center and author of many books and articles on world peace.


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