In the week the International Criminal Court celebrates 10 years since its conception, its judges are faced with a crucial decision.
Do they or do they not issue its first arrest warrant against a sitting head of state, the Sudanese President, on charges of genocide?
The man making the request believes they must.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said: “If the judges confirm my position, we are dealing with a genocide. Is it easy to stop? No. Do we need to stop it? Yes. Do we have to stop it? Yes. The international community failed in the past, failed to stop Rwanda’s genocide, failed to stop the Balkans’ crimes, so this time the new thing is there is a court, an independent court, during the crimes who is saying this is a genocide.”
The ICC was born on July 17, 1998 in Rome.
Everything, its objectives, structure, jurisdiction and finances, is set out in the Rome Statute.
It provides a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for the most serious crimes.
A total of 120 countries signed the Rome treaty, but a minimum of 60 of them needed to ratify it before the ICC could enter into force. That finally happened in 2002.
Among those countries that signed but have never ratified are the US, Russia and Sudan.
Today 106 nations have ratified the Rome treaty and are therefore ICC members.
The court has so far opened investigations into four conflicts: the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Central African Republic and Uganda, which are all members of the court and Sudan, which doesn’t recognise its jurisdiction.
If, as in Sudan’s case, the alleged crimes took place in a non-ICC member state, then the situation must be referred to the court by the UN Security Council.
This has been done but the court’s complex procedures mean that if the judges do decide to pursue Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, it would be years before the trial could take place.