Japan’s first ICC judge takes aim at ‘culture of impunity’



News photo
Fumiko Saiga, Japan's first judge on the International Criminal Court, gives an interview in Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO
Set up in 2002, the ICC is the first permanent international court to try people accused of the most serious crimes of global concern, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.Saiga, 64, was elected in November to serve as a judge at the ICC in The Hague until March 2009. "The ultimate goal of the ICC is to eradicate serious crimes from the world and let the world – governed by the rule of law,” she said in a recent interview.

Saiga, a career diplomat, has served as ambassador in charge of human rights and a member of the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

“The significance of the creation of the ICC is that we have a permanent institution that doesn’t allow ‘a culture of impunity’ to prevail in any part of the world,” she said. “Those (who) commit serious crimes will be tried and will not be able to get away with what they have done.”

So far, four cases have been filed with the ICC, including one dealing with Darfur, Sudan. The court issued arrest warrants for Ahmad Harun, Sudan’s humanitarian affairs minister, and Ali Kushayb, a militia leader, for their alleged role in killing about 1,000 civilians in western Darfur between 2003 and 2004.

Because the ICC is still not well-known in Japan, especially given that all four cases referred to the court pertain to Africa, Saiga wants to use this opportunity to raise the court’s profile here.

“There has not been a trial at the ICC yet. As the trials go forward, I’d like to make the process visible for Japanese to promote people’s awareness,” she said.

Her ambition does not end there. Saiga wants to persuade all the countries that have not yet joined the ICC — particularly the United States, Russia and China, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — to ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute.

Saiga said expanding the ICC’s global membership would promote a united rejection of the culture of impunity.

“The ICC lacks member countries from Asia. Having Japan on board (is beneficial) for the court. With Japan’s membership, I hope other countries will be prompted to think about joining,” she said.

Although it was only two months after Japan joined the ICC on Oct. 1, making it the 105th signatory to the treaty, Saiga received 82 votes — more than the required two-thirds majority — and was elected Nov. 30 to fill one of three vacancies.

“It is very encouraging that many member countries voted in favor of Japan sending a judge. I feel high expectations from them,” she said.

Japan will be the ICC’s largest donor country, with an annual ¥3 billion contribution — the maximum Japan can provide under the ceiling set by the court.