States parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) – the world’s only permanent tribunal for prosecuting individuals responsible for war crimes – today began their first session at United Nations Headquarters in New York aimed at finalizing practical arrangements for the ICC’s functioning.”This is an historic day for the United Nations and the whole international community,” UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell told the gathering. “We see the dawn of a new age in the pursuit of justice.”Mr. Corell said that “relentless efforts by States and civil society” had led to the milestone. “International law will be strengthened,” he said. “Impunity for those who commit the most heinous crimes will be curtailed.”Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan, elected President of the First Session of the Assembly of States Parties, said he was driven by a profound sense of purpose that the Court be built as the authors of the Rome Statute intended. “We have already surmounted a great many obstacles in our quest for a permanent, impartial and independent ICC,” he said.”Our achievements were only possible because the position of the international community was unshakeable in its support for the Court – anchored in the conviction that humanity will never truly advance, rest with its conscience, find comfort or peace, unless we do what we hitherto have been unable to do: provide a global juridical instrument to deter those persons seeking to commit the gravest of crimes, prosecute those accused of having already brought enormous suffering on the innocent, and offer truth and justice to the victims and to ourselves collectively,” he stated. The Assembly is expected to adopt a series of documents on the Court’s functioning, including the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, Elements of Crimes, Financial Regulations and Rules, and the budget for the first financial period. The session, which runs through 10 September, is also scheduled to adopt procedures for the election of the ICC’s judges and Prosecutor.The preparatory process will continue early next year, when the Assembly’s second session is slated to elect the Prosecutor and 18 judges of the Court, who will then be sworn in at a ceremony at The Hague, where the ICC will be located.The Court is mandated to try individuals for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community – war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Eighteen international judges will serve on the ICC, which will also have a team of prosecutors and investigators. The Court, not part of the UN, will be accountable to the countries that ratify the Rome Statute, which have agreed to prosecute individuals accused of such crimes under their own laws, or to surrender them to the Court for trial.The Rome Statute, which entered into force on 1 July, is non-retroactive, so only cases from that date on will be prosecuted. It has been ratified by 78 States and signed by 139.