Overview by Kimberley Ogonda and Emma Bakkum, Research Associates PILPG-NL
General Debate in fourth Plenary Session. This debate included a discussion about the withdrawals of States from the Rome Statute and the universality of the Rome Statute.
Kenya noted that African states remain the bedrock of this Assembly. However, they consider they have been confronted with hostile and negative perception.
The representative of Tanzania noted in her speech that “Recent widespread perception calls for a serious dialogue. The work of this ASP is to address the matters of serious concern with sincerity and without delay.”
During the 4th Plenary meeting fifteen member states, three observer states (US, Iran, and China), and twelve NGO’s concluded their statements. During the meeting the following highlights were made by the speakers:
The majority of states emphasized their concern with the announcement made by three African member states to withdraw from the Rome Statute and appealed to these states to reconsider their decision. All states also emphasized the importance of sovereignty and noted it was important to respect the wishes of those wanting to withdraw from the Rome Statue. To enable universality many member states noted the need for constructive dialogue between the ICC and members. For example, the representative of Tanzania noted in her speech that “recent widespread perception calls for a serious dialogue. The work of this ASP is to address the matters of serious concern with sincerity and without delay.” Ghana noted that this year’s ASP is held at a time of great turbulence. Withdrawal threatens the legitimacy of the ICC and what it has achieved. Ghana noted that this year’s ASP is held at a time of great turbulence. “Withdrawal threatens the legitimacy of the ICC and what it has achieved. This development is worrying because it represents a deepening of tensions between the Court and African states and because they are setbacks in achieving universality of the Rome Statute.”
El Salvador has recently ratified the Rome Statute and the Kampala Amendments on war crimes and the crime of aggression. This was welcomed by many member states who also urged other non-member states to take necessary steps to ratify the Rome Statue and the Kampala Amendments. Moreover, states expressed concern regarding the UNSC and veto power of states.
Kenya mainly expressed concern regarding the UN High Commissioner’s statement made the previous day, namely that member states wanting to leave the ICC, should leave. Kenya accused the UN High Commissioner of lacking the courage to name the countries outside the Rome Statute: “Do African states have to be the perennial scapegoat? We are shocked and saddened and dismayed by his unhinged and unfortunate statement.” Kenya also stressed it will not engage in superficial dialogue anymore. Kenya strengthened the fact that it remains a defender of human rights and that it will always act in good faith. Kenya views itself as a democratic construct and in good standing. Kenya’s engagement with the court and in this assembly, is and will remain undeaden by law, state practice, multilateralism and diplomatic etiquette.
Non-member state U.S. recalled its concerns regarding the crime of aggression amendments. “We continue to believe there remains a dangerous and substantial degree of uncertainty with respect to quite basic issues regarding the amendments, and we continue to believe that it is in the interest of both peace and justice to ensure that any decision to activate the Court’s jurisdiction be preceded by concrete steps to provide greater clarity on these matters.” Other states however, such as Trinidad and Tobago, urged for the activation of the court’s jurisdiction regarding the crimes of aggression.
Budgetary concerns were also raised by many states. Brazil claimed that budgetary realities in member states are ignored and are not in line in line with budgetary progresses. Further they claimed that the situation is not sustainable and reiterated the need to implement Article 142 and 115(b), to avoid that these costs will fall only on the members. Mexico and Guatemala called for better transparency regarding the budget. Ghana reiterated its call for a cost-benefit analysis to justify the sacrifices that have been made in term of resources and personnel.
States moreover spoke about the importance of protecting victims, having a Victim trust fund and ensuring access for justice for all. The U.S., Mexico and Tunisia made reference to the fact that crimes in Syria and Iraq are currently not being addressed. Complementarity was also emphasized by states. They emphasized their firm belief in the need to effective operationalization of complementarity as a clear instrument to assure the full realization of the objectives of the Rome Statute. Building domestic capacity of judges and prosecutors and other key officials in domestic to equip them adequately.
Ghana noted that the argument to maintain flexibility of Article 97 of the Rome Statute may have been valid in the past, but the fact that the absence of clear guidelines has resulted in uncertainty in the implementation of the provisions is a clear indication that the article requires further examination.
The Philippines also stressed concern regarding the recent decisions to withdraw from the Rome Statute. It furthermore stated that while well-intended, a recent statement by the ICC prosecutor on the situation in the country was premature given what it called ongoing investigations into alleged extra-judicial killings and systematic attacks against the population.
Notwithstanding many member states mentioning the challenges facing the court, they also acknowledged positive movements and achievements by the ICC. The majority of states reconfirmed its commitment to the ICC. Trinidad and Tobago said that ”we have much to celebrate”.
Lastly, several NGO’s delivered statements. They spoke about a range of issues, including the need for states to cooperate with the court and ensure access to justice for victims. They also expressed their concern about member state withdrawal.