Six children walked down a road in the region of Ituri, in Congo. They were on their way to school when a jeep packed with militiamen sped in front of them. Fighters bearing AK-47s ordered the terrified children into the jeep. They were transported to military training camps and forced to learn to fire machine guns. Three weeks later, the children were in the field, killing and being killed.
Thomas Lubanga, leader of one of Congo's most dangerous militias, allegedly orchestrated crimes like the one described above. In March, the judges of the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant charging Lubanga with conscripting children under 15 as soldiers. A few days later, Lubanga was transferred from Congo to a prison in The Hague.
Lubanga's transfer hints at the promise of a permanent international criminal court rooted in global cooperation. The Nuremberg war crimes trial and the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, paved the way, testing the viability of a criminal justice system without a state apparatus. But the ICC's predecessors were each limited in scope to a particular territory. The ICC's distinct challenge is to function within a worldwide criminal justice system without a world state.
The Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court created a remarkable innovation: an international justice network. The treaty has galvanized 100 countries, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and other partners committed to ending impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
Countries have the primary responsibility to prevent and punish atrocities in their own territories and to cooperate with the ICC when it decides to take a case. Intervention by the ICC must be exceptional - it will only step in when states fail to genuinely act.
Supported by an evolving network of cooperation, the ICC is investigating three of the world's gravest situations. The Congo case is an early indication of the potential of the Rome system, while our other two pending cases, Uganda and Darfur, reveal emerging challenges.
Congo referred its own case to the ICC, demonstrating its commitment to cooperating with the court's activities. Lubanga's transfer was the direct result of coordination between the court, the Congolese government, international organizations and ICC member states.
Like Congo, the government of Uganda requested ICC intervention. With the cooperation of the people and government, our team investigated thousands of crimes in just nine months. We expect our evidence to show that Joseph Kony and four senior commanders of a militia, the Lord's Resistance Army, perpetrated horrific attacks against people of northern Uganda. For 20 years, the LRA has abducted children from their homes and schools, forcing boys to kill and compelling girls to kill and to serve as sex slaves.
The arrest warrants against the LRA leadership, which the ICC judges issued in July 2005, have already had an impact. Sudan, which had harbored the LRA in the past, has voluntarily agreed to execute the warrants. Because of escalating international and regional pressure, the LRA commanders have been forced to flee their safe havens. LRA attacks in northern Uganda have declined dramatically as a result.
But the LRA is now in northern Congo, endangering people in the region. Kony recently attempted to negotiate a political deal. In the past, he has used negotiations to buy time and regroup. To do justice and re-establish security in the region, the justice network has to arrest the LRA commanders.
Our third investigation, Darfur, was initiated as the direct result of the active support of international experts, NGOs and states. After the independent Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the United Nations, the Security Council passed a resolution referring the Darfur situation to the ICC.
It is currently impossible to protect witnesses, so our investigators are compiling statements in almost a dozen countries other than Sudan. A network of cooperation enables this investigation to advance under the worst of operating conditions. But, ultimately, delivering justice in Darfur necessitates full cooperation by Sudan.
The global impact of the Rome Statute is becoming apparent. Already national armies are adjusting their procedures. Colombian paramilitaries have referred to the ICC as one reason to demobilize. Prosecutors in the Netherlands have indicted a Dutch businessman for fueling the conflict in Liberia, citing the ICC as the impetus. Lubanga's counterparts fear a fate similar to his.
Three years ago, 18 judges and I converged from the five continents and entered a nascent court in The Hague. Today the Rome system is in motion.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo is chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.