Side Event – “El rol de América Latina y el Caribe ante la Corte Penal Internacional: contribución y compromisos a los 20 años de la adopción del Estatuto”

(co-hosted by Costa Rica and Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC)))

Overview by Juan Manuel Martinez Rojas, Research Associate PILPG NL

Main Highlights: 

  • The relationship between the Latin America and the Caribbean region with the ICC it’s closer than ever before. There is an increased interest from the ICC in the region and several cooperation efforts in the multilateral relationship.

  • Some States parties from the Latin America Region feel underrepresented in the organs of the ICC despite having contributed with the first prosecutor and other managerial positions.  

Descriptive Summary of the Event: 

The event was organized by the Coalition for the ICC and Costa Rica. Ambassador Sergio Ugalde from Costa Rica saluted the public and highlighted the significant contributions from Latin America to this court despite the criticism of it being an European centered court. He stressed that the region has the highest percentage of ratification from all regions of the world. He finds this system of criminal justice relevant to the world and to his region because Latin America acknowledges the relevance of complementarity which strengthens the regional judicial systems. He considers that there’s still room to grow and several challenges, but the region is heading in the right direction. He highlighted the fact that the region has contributed with precedents in the ASP, the first prosecutor of the ICC, and he claimed that the region has been a relevant players for the development of the ICC.

He pointed out big challenges for the ICC because powerful actors have been questioning the current legal order based on rules and agreements and the ICC has become a target for these powers. This issue demands, in his words, the full support and commitment with the ICC, particularly from Latin America. He finalized his statement talking about the issue of gender balance as a relevant one nowadays. He salutes the work of the region but he believes that it has to carry on in this matter.

After the Ambassador, Michelle Reyes from CICC took the floor and affirmed the significance of holding the side-event in the framework of the 20thanniversary of the Rome Statute. She highlighted that small and medium democracies, especially the Latin American countries, have been crucial for the Court’s development. For her, the region has a foundational role in the elaboration of the Rome Statute and has worked hard in advocacy for universality. She noted the high levels of local implementation of the Rome Statute.  

Then, Mariana Pena from the Open Society Justice Initiative talked about the current situation of the ICC and its relationship with Latin America. She confirmed that the region has significant contributions in the process of creation, ratification and establishment of the ICC. But also, she said that the times have changed with the work of the ICC and it is expanding from Africa going to East Europe, Middle East and Asia, and also to Latin America. She pointed out a huge change in the international order but a survival of the Latin American motto: ‘never again’. She thinks that region does not want international crimes to be committed again in Latin America nor any region of the world. 

She stressed that there is a growing role of the Latin American countries in The Hague’s working groups for the ICC. Despite this, she thinks that the ICC is far away from the region, and the region is far away from the ICC. Whilst there have been some efforts from Latin American universities, she considers that the relationship between the ICC and the region is still distant in terms of knowledge and awareness about the Court and its work. For her, there is a reality: there is not sufficient knowledge of our region, our legal system and our culture within the ICC. She highlighted the fact that people from the region mainly have to learn French or English to access the ICC framework. Regarding the attacks the ICC has recently received, she stressed the region can play a leadership role. She sustains that despite its long-lasting support to the ICC, Europe nowadays seems refusing to confront those main powers that direct the attacks.

She finished her intervention talking about the next Prosecutor election. She mentioned that the Open Society Justice Initiative has worked on that matter and participated in The Hague Working Group. She said that her organization has suggested the creation of an Election Committee formed by 7 to 9 experts that are able to assess the candidatures. She believes that a crucial factor for the election should be the knowledge of investigations and criminal prosecution and also the management skills of the candidacy. She mentioned that the previous election was criticized due the little time for consults and that this Committee, if created, would need funding and she said that the current budget does not include any financing for this. 

Antonia Pereira de Sousa from the ICC External Relations and Cooperation Officer said that there is a need to reinforce universality, since there are still several countries that have not yet signed nor ratified the Rome Statute. She stressed that from last year there is a reinforced relationship between the Court and the region through several multilateral discussions and technical missions. She further mentioned the increased laws on the framework for cooperation, for instance the ones from Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Chile. She affirmed that the ICC Registry wants to support these processes through their experience with other states. She highlighted the importance of focal points or periods of cooperation, in quick and simplified processes. She finally remarked that it is important to reinforce the geographic representation in the Registry. 

Felipe Michelini, President of the Council of the Trust Fund for Victims started his intervention recognizing the civil society as a key player in this system. He stressed that the contribution to the Rome Statute from the region has been clearly demonstrable as 28 states from the Latin America and Caribbean region have ratified the Statute and the region has had several managerial positions in the ICC and has contributed through legal doctrine, activists and the role of their diplomats.  Despite positive elements, he highlighted the low regional contributions to the Trust Fund and the region’s endemic history of human rights violations, such as violence against women or the eternal discrimination against youth and children. For him, the Rome statute is important because it has raised the standards terms of in rejecting and judging genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He finished his intervention by affirming that the language is a key issue and that despite of that there are contributions in terms of academy and professionalism in favour of the ICC.

Finally, Judge Luz del Carmen Ibañez addressed the public and she talked about the dream of international justice from a Latin American woman’s perspective. She noted that there’s a prominence of the western European approach of the legal interpretation. She said that victims’ representation and reparations are lacking.  She said that the region has an enormous legal and scholar production about the victim’s participation and reparations. This focus can also be seen in the Interamerican Human Rights System. For her, the ICC is a teenager: vulnerable and problematic. And in her opinion, the role of Latin America towards maturity of the ICC is leadership. To do this, she proposed: (1) intense development of positive complementarity through an outreach effort by the ICC and the use of the Spanish language, (2) equal geographical representation in the ICC staff, (3) contributions from the Latin American legal system in reparations and victim participation, and (4) empowering Spanish as way to enriching the ICC. 

Following the speakers from the panel, some Latin American States made declarations. Ecuador mentioned the organization of the ‘The ICC and South America’ Seminar in Quito. The Quito Declaration was an important expression of the support from the region to the ICC. Ecuador has ratified its commitment and support to the ICC in its fight against impunity. Brazil also mentioned the Quito Seminar finding it to be constructive and discussing the need for more geographic representation at the ICC. Brazil also mentioned that the delegation is proposing a debate in the omnibus negotiators to increase that representation also in the ICC Bureau. Chile focused on the autonomy of judges and the requirement of confidence from States.

The questions at the end of the session included how to manage the expectations of victims, to which Judge Ibanez noted the prioritization of dignity, truth, and justice before reparations. Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch also noted the contribution of Latin America to the Rome Statute due its legitimacy and experience in dealing with transitional issues. He argued that the region could also contribute to the future of the ICC by emphasizing its justice claim and credibility.