Side Events: 17th Assembly of States Parties | “The Initiative for a Multilateral Treaty for Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition for Domestic Prosecution of the Most Serious International Crimes”

(co-hosted by Argentina, Belgium, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Senegal and Slovenia)

Overview by Emma Bakkum, Senior Research Associate PILPG NL


  • The MLA initiative aims at filling the gap in the existing legal framework that addresses the prosecution of the most serious international crimes.

  • The initiative enjoys the support from 60 states, which have expressed their support by signing a permanent declaration.

  • Spain indicated its intention to sign the permanent declaration during the side event. 

  • A draft treaty has been established and a second preparatory conference will be held from 11 to 14 March 2019. 

The core group of the MLA initiative (Argentina, Belgium, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Senegal and Slovenia) organized this side event to provide an update on the progress of the MLA initiative and the way forward. Mr. Marko Stucin (Slovenia) started the event by summarizing the history of the MLA-initiative. In 2011, Belgium, Slovenia, and the Netherlands saw a need to address the clear legal gap that hinders effective prosecution of international crimes. Inter-state cooperation is key to the domestic investigation and prosecution of international crimes: without an adequate international legal framework, the effectiveness of domestic prosecutions diminishes. However, the existing legal framework does not contain modern and sufficient provisions for mutual assistance and extradition. The Genocide Conventions is, for example, silent on measures of extradition. After the launch of the MLA initiative, Argentina, Senegal, and Mongolia joined the core group and as of now, the MLA initiative has support from 60 states. 

At the preparatory conference held in October 2017 in Doorn procedural aspects of the MLA-initiative were discussed. The participants for instance decided that the MLA-initiative would follow a stand-alone process outside the scope of the UN. The preparatory conference was also instrumental for the drafting of the treaty, that aims to attend to the needs of practitioners. While the preparatory conference did not always provide answers, none of the participants found that the treaty should apply to less crimes than incorporated in the Rome Statute and the participants were in favor of copy-pasting the definitions of crimes of the Rome Statute while allowing for broader definitions. 

Invitations for the second preparatory conference to be held from 11 to 14 March 2019 will be sent out soon. For this conference, input from co-sponsors is requested to redraft the preliminary treaty and the rules of procedures will be finalized.  

During the Q&A, a representative of Japan inquired into the reasons for pursuing the MLA-initiative outside the UN frame. Ms. Erica Lucera (Argentina) answered that during the preparatory conference in 2017 several reasons were discussed. Pursuing the treaty initiative within the UN framework would constitute more supporting states but also trigger the possibility to reach a text to the lowest level denominator. Moreover, a process within the UN can be more time consuming as several steps needs to be fulfilled first. Ms. Lucera added that this does not mean however, that the MLA-initiative is not looking forward to engage with the UN. A second comment came from a representative of Spain, who, after stating that the MLA-initiative represents a commitment to the rule of law and is a contribution to peace and security, proudly announced to join the initiative as a supporter. Austria, preferring to see both projects come together, mentioned the overlap of the MLA-initiative with the work of the UN International Law Commission on articles on crimes against humanity.

Finally, several NGOs had some remarks. Justice Rapid Response asked how the treaty addresses different perceptions of jurisdiction of states. The answer to this question included that the draft treaty does not oblige any state to use universal jurisdiction. It does however require agreement on the definition of the criminal offenses. Amnesty International (AI) and Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) stressed the importance of human rights safeguards and justice for victims. Both NGOs will continue to push for the inclusion of broader definitions and expanding the crimes included. AI highlighted certain issues with the Rome Statute definitions, such as the age of child soldiers. AI moreover emphasized their concern with the provisions on amnesty and pardons, and stated that reasons to refuse cooperation included in the draft treaty may go too far.