Side Events: 17th Assembly of States Parties | “Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute”

(co-hosted by the Netherlands, Uganda and Africa Legal Aid)

Overview by Vicki Tien, Research Associate PILPG NL


  • The side event focused on the discussion regarding the challenges facing the ICC, particularly the ICC’s legitimacy, and the measures to counter these problems.

  • The panel speakers all acknowledged the important role of the ICC in the past 20 years but agreed that it is necessary to address the perception issue and take action to change it. 

This side event, commemorating the 20thanniversary of the Rome Statute, resolved around the problem of the ICC’s legitimacy and the lessons learned from 20 years of the Rome Statute. Panel speakers, such as Judge Geoffrey Henderson, argued that the biggest challenge that the ICC has been facing in the past twenty years is the inaccurate perception of the Court from the public. Judge Prost believes that the wrong perception of the Court resulted from the issue of complementarity, which, according to her, has not received enough attention since 1998. She urged everyone to remember that the ICC is based on the complementarity principle, which reflects that core international crimes are preferably investigated and prosecuted in the country where they occurred. She further stressed that the duty of the Court is to motivate the states to take on their responsibilities when an atrocity crime takes place in their own country, and that the Court only has the role to play when the local courts are unable to do the job. The panel speakers believe that many hold a false perception of the ICC and see it as the single authority that can prosecute atrocity crimes. The panel speakers agreed that it is necessary to take action to change this perception.

Regarding the complementarity principle, Judge Prost stated that the ICC is currently facing two problems: capacity building and states’ lack of willingness. She first pointed out the problem that many local courts lack the capacity to prosecute mass atrocity crimes and she thereby highlighted the importance of capacity building through strengthening legal frameworks and training of legal personnel in domestic courts. She stressed that such capacity building efforts require international cooperation. The second problem, concerning the lack of willingness of states, affects the effectiveness of the Court as the Court does not have universal jurisdiction.

In addition to the discussion resolving around the false perception of the Court, the panel speakers briefly discussed the gender balance issue within the Court. One panel speaker stressed that there should be 50/50 gender ratio in the judicial offices in the Court. Currently, the proportion of active female judges in the ICC is 33%.

The audience raised a question about the effectiveness of the complementarity principle as domestic courts in some countries, such as the Central African Republic, have limited capacity and still practice the death penalty. Judge Prost responded that the ICC can be the driving force to improve the personnel training in domestic legal institutions.