IRRC No. 322

The first proposal for a permanent international criminal court

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On 15 June 1998, a diplomatic conference in Rome will open a five-week session to remedy one of the long-standing gaps in the implementation system for international humanitarian law by adopting a treaty to establish a permanent international criminal court. Although the current effort within the United Nations to set up a permanent court began half a century ago with a proposal in 1947 by Henri Donnedieu de Vabres, the French judge on the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, it is not widely known that the first serious such proposal appears to have been made more than a century and a quarter ago by Gustave Moynier, one of the founders, and longtime President, of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He wrestled with many of the same problems which will face the drafters of the statute at the 1998 diplomatic conference and the strengths and weaknesses of his proposal still have relevance today. This short essay describes that proposal and its origins, reviews the reaction to it of his contemporaries and its impact on subsequent history and concludes with an assessment of the merits of Moynier's plan.

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