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Jean-Marc Ferré / United Nations.

Philippe Kirsch


“Ambassador Kirsch was a sophisticated international lawyer who had spent most of his diplomatic career at the UN. His role in forging compromise on language was an essential ingredient in bringing the diverse views of different countries into line behind a common text.”

Loyd Axworthy
Minister of Foreign Affairs (1996-2000).


Philippe Kirsch turned the International Criminal Court (ICC) from an idea to a reality. On the strength of his reputation, Kirsch was nominated to chair a month-long conference in Rome to draft a statute for the ICC. From June to July 1998, delegates from 160 states, 14 agencies of the United Nations, and over 200 non-governmental associations met with the help of 80 interpreters to draft proposals defining the jurisdiction and powers of the ICC. Kirsch chaired the Committee of the Whole, which resolved the most contentious issues. While he pressed for compromising language, almost every delegation disagreed on at least one of the proposed articles. With time running out, Kirsch penned the final package in the form of a draft statute and presented it to the delegates. Thanks to his skillful chairing of discussions and judicious writing, Kirsch won support from more than three-quarters of the delegates who enacted a statute to establish the ICC. As he continued with the work of establishing the ICC, Kirsch represented Canada’s ongoing commitment to maintaining a rules-based international order.

Philippe Kirsch (left) speaks with Navy Pillay, United Nations, High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the 19 th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2012. Jean-Marc Ferré / United Nations.

Kirsch joined the Foreign Service in 1972 and enjoyed a long career as a legal advisor with the Department of External Affairs. After serving as Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, he was appointed Assistant Deputy Minister for Legal, Consular, and Passport Affairs. In 1999, he served as Canada’s ambassador to Sweden. Kirsch was elected president of the International Criminal Court in 2003.

Kirsch was born in Belgium in 1947. He came to Canada in 1961 and studied law at l’Université de Montréal. Kirsch was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for his contributions to international criminal law.

Further Readings:

Kirsch, Philippe, and John T. Holmes. “The Rome Conference on an International Criminal Court: The Negotiating Process.” American Journal of International Law 93:1 (1999): 2-12.

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