Canada and the International Criminal Court

Canadians can be proud of the central role Canada played in establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The idea of establishing an international criminal court has existed for a long time. But the ICC we have today was not constituted until quite recently. The current ICC initiative was facilitated by the draft Statute prepared by the International Law Commission (ILC) and was galvanized by reports of atrocities committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Canada supported the ICC effort from the very beginning and continues to support the ICC with crucial leadership, advocacy and resources.

Canada and the Movement for the ICC

Canada played a pivotal role in the movement for the International Criminal Court and contributed to its development in a variety of important ways, which included:

  • chairing a coalition of States called "The Like-Minded Group" that helped to motivate the wider international community to adopt the Rome Statute,

  • generating support for an independent and effective ICC through public statements and extensive lobbying,

  • contributing to a United Nations Trust Fund that enabled lesser developed countries to participate in ICC negotiations, thereby ensuring true international representation; and

  • helping to fund non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from developing nations so that the ICC process would benefit from their unique perspectives.

In addition, a senior Canadian diplomat, Philippe Kirsch, was chosen by acclamation to chair the Committee of the Whole at the Diplomatic Conference in Rome, which was held June 15-July 17, 1998. The Committee of the Whole acted as the pivotal negotiating body at the conference.

Canada at the Rome Conference

During the Conference, the Canadian delegation played a brokering role in negotiations that concerned the jurisdiction of the Court, the definitions of crimes and the Court's procedures and general principles. The Canadian delegation bridged gaps and addressed legitimate concerns in creative ways, while preserving the principles required to maintain a strong Court.

After five weeks of negotiations, delegates at the Conference had made tremendous headway on hundreds of technical issues related to the creation of the ICC. However, substantial divisions still existed on difficult issues like the scope of the Court's jurisdiction and the extent of its independence. Accordingly, it fell to the Chair of the Committee of the Whole, Philippe Kirsch, with the assistance of a Bureau of coordinators, to draft a final, global proposal for the ICC. The result was a carefully balanced proposal that clearly reflected the majority position on a strong, independent ICC, but which also made every effort to address minority views in a constructive fashion.

On the final day of the Conference, the final proposal that was drafted under Canada's leadership received broad approval.

The Rome Statute of the ICC was adopted by an unrecorded vote of 120 States in favour, 7 against and 21 abstentions.

Canada and the ICC Prepatory Commission

After the Rome Statute was adopted, a Preparatory Commission (PrepCom) was established to work out critical details of the Court's operation. The PrepCom was charged with negotiating specific supplementary documents, which included:

  • the Rules of Procedure and Evidence,
  • the Elements of Crimes,
  • the Financial Rules and Regulations,
  • the ICC's Relationship Agreement with the United Nations; and
  • ICC Privileges and Immunities.

Again, Canadian Philippe Kirsch was chosen to be Chair of the Preparatory Commission.

Canada's ICC Leadership at Home

On December 18, 1998, Canada was the 14th country to sign the Rome Statute of the ICC.

On June 29, 2000, Canada enacted the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, becoming the first country in the world to adopt comprehensive legislation implementing the Rome Statute.

The Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act updated Canadian law to conform with the Rome Statute. Canada needed to pass the Act in order to ratify the Statute.

On July 7, 2000, Canada ratified the Rome Statute.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy deposited Canada's instrument of ratification at United Nations Headquarters in New York with Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell.

The Government of Canada sponsored two Canadian organizations to produce a detailed technical manual on how to implement the Rome Statute. The manual was designed to encourage and enable other countries to ratify and implement the Rome Statute in support of the ICC.

Canadian ICC Judge

In February 2003, Canadian Philippe Kirsch was elected a Judge of the International Criminal Court. He was subsequently elected President of the Court. Judge Kirsch was re-elected on March 11, 2006 as the President of the Court.


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