Chapter 1. The entrance.
It is autumn 2011. I arrive at the ICC, then still located in a temporary building, squeezed in between a highway, trailways and an industrial zone. A press officer navigates me through the building……
‘Every time she gets to the next electronic lock, she presses her security pass
against the device. Arriving at the last door, she takes out her hand-phone and calls for a final okay. She then pushes the heavy door that gives access to the protected wing, enters the corridor and walks to the room of Gilbert Bitti, an amiable Frenchman who works as senior legal advisor for the judges of the pre-trial division, that handles cases in the entire phase before the trial. In his appearance – spectacles with a light metal rim – he resembles a professor who’s passionate about his subject. When he is present during hearings in the courtroom, he is recognizable because of his full beard. But now, after some drastic razor blade action, suddenly his shaven jaws are visible.
Bitti has been involved since ICC’s conception. In fact, he was present even before the ‘midwives’ arrived on the scene, he tells with a friendly smile. ‘It was a bit of a miracle,’ the legal expert says about the birth of the court, speaking with his typical high voice, in an English that is lifted up by a charming French accent. With satisfaction he remembers the ‘nineties’ when he, as a young lawyer, was part of the French diplomatic
delegation at the United Nations.
It was a special time. The campaign by human rights organisations and a large group of ‘like-minded’ countries, dedicated to establish the first permanent international criminal court in history, had reached its climax. World politics were still caught up in large disputes, but there were opportunities as well. ‘We experienced that moment of Utopia. Between the end of the Soviet Union and the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York,’ recalls Bitti, who, as a true French intellectual, enjoys with visible delight a more contemplative discourse. It was a period with political leaders on the world stage who were positive about the idea of international justice. Tony Blair had just been elected, and was still fresh as the new prime minister of the United Kingdom. In France, the
government was led by the socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin. The Democrat Bill Clinton was president of the United States of America.
The basics were in place. The United Nations had – after a vacuum of forty years since the war tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo – established two new ad hoc tribunals to punish suspects of international crimes committed during the wars in Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda.
‘We were about to change the world,’ says Bitti, with such animation that his voice almost goes off the rails. ‘Interestingly, many persons dedicated to the International Criminal Court were still young. I was 32 years old. Still a boy. But one needs that naivety and youthful enthusiasm to get things done.’
The Netherlands was keen on getting the ICC to The Hague. While lobbying, the government had chosen a softly-softly approach in order to prevent attracting too much attention of rivals, whose interest in hosting such a prestigious institution might otherwise be awoken. Much to its surprise, there was no resistance nor competition. When the Dutch suggested to put ‘The Hague’ behind the word ‘seat’ in the draft version of the Rome Statute, nobody objected. And so The Netherlands succeeded
in fulfilling its ambition.