Fourth Plenary Meeting of the ASP17

Overview by Kathryn Gooding, Research Associate PILPG NL

Highlights: 

  • Several States noted the need for the inclusion of new crimes, such as international crimes relating to climate change, people trafficking, and cybercrimes.

  • Several states, including Bangladesh, encouraged the investigation into the crimes committed against the Rohingya.  

  • Chile and Canada requested the right of reply to respond to the statement made by Venezuela, noting the recent referral of the country to the ICC. 

  • William Pace announced that he is stepping down as convener of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) after 24 years. 

During the 4th plenary meeting of the 17thASP the general debate continued. 14 states, including Ghana, Tunisia, Vanuatu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Botswana, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and Venezuela, 3 observer states, and several civil society members issued statements. 

Reoccurring themes in the statements were the challenges the Court is facing, for example in relation to cooperation and universality of the Rome Statute. Paraguay observed with concern that some states are withdrawing from the statute. Trinidad and Tobago emphasized that the Court should encourage dialogue about the announced withdrawal of some states from the ICC. Trinidad and Tobago noted that the ICC has been perceived as a threat to national sovereignty by some states and dispelled this by emphasizing that in line with the principle of complementarity, the court’s jurisdiction is only invoked when states are unwilling or unable to prosecute international crimes. Iceland emphasized the need for universal membership of the ICC and that states with concerns about the Court should engage in constructive dialogue. Ghana emphasized the need for continued dialogue to ensure good relations with Africa and Burkina Faso noted new challenges faced by itself and by the Court, namely terrorism, trans-border instabilities, and extreme nationalism. In light of this, Burkina Faso argued that the construction of peace is a permanent quest, and that together, all states must establish credible mechanisms to ensure the independence of the court to improve the fight against mass atrocities. 

In this regards, a number of states mentioned the steps they have taken to implement or complement the Rome Statute at the domestic level. Tunisia has just passed a bill that will ensure the domestic prosecution of international crimes in line with the Rome Statute, and has accepted the jurisdiction of the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive complaints from individuals and NGOs. Since 2003, Paraguay has kept a standing invitation to all bodies that wish to investigate Paraguay for conformity with human rights. It also has an IT system to allow for the permanent monitoring for the state of implementation of human rights treaties. 

Numerous states called attention to the crimes committed against the Rohingya. Tunisia called for an investigation into the deportation of the Rohingya. Bangladesh stated that 723,000 Rohingya have come to Bangladesh to flee from “atrocity crimes”, called it a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, and argued that the ICC must ensure accountability for the actions of Myanmar. Iceland expressed grave concerns regarding the persecution of the Rohingya people, and encouraged the formation of an independent mechanism to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar.

Furthermore, states made calls to expand the subject-matter jurisdiction of the Court. While Vanuatu emphasized atrocities that have been affecting Pacific islands, particularly the impacts of climate catastrophe, and claimed it is a genocide against those dependent on the lands under threat, Trinidad and Tobago proposed an amendment to the Rome Statute to include international trafficking. Vanuatu also supported calls for the Court to take on responsibility for addressing people trafficking and cybercrime. 

Iceland and Venezuela expressed concerns regarding the UN Security Council. Iceland argued for enhanced cooperation between the Court and the UN Security Council, and expressed concern that the situation in Syria had not been referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council.

Similar to statements during previous sessions, states, including Ghana and Sierra Leone, stressed the need for equitable geographical representation and gender balance within the Court.  

Looking back at achievements, many states, including Bangladesh, Botswana, and observer state Iran, congratulated the ICC for the activation of its jurisdiction for the crime of aggression through the Kampala Amendment. Ghana noted that it has commenced proceedings to ensure that it can ratify the Kampala Amendment. Argentina called upon states that have not yet ratified it to do so. 

Venezuela dedicated much of its statement to the recent referral of the country to the ICC (by Argentina, Canada, Chili, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru). It questioned the transparency, credibility, and independence of the ICC, and argued that the ICC is dominated by one state party. Venezuela criticized the opacity in the selection of situations investigated by the Court, and criticized the ICC for basing their accusations on news articles, witnesses and non-official reports from other parties. Venezuela stated that the work of the Court should be based on verifiable fact. Argentina, as one of the referring states, also touched upon the referral and expressed concerns over Venezuela and the systematic violation of human rights.  

Following Venezuela’s statement, Chili and Canada used their right of reply. Chile emphasized that this is not the right forum to accuse states and that Chile has no desire to accuse states of crimes that did not take place. Canada, in response, expressed concern over the comments made by Venezuela. Canada emphasized that when crimes in a particular country have reached the requisite threshold, they have a right to refer that state to the Court. Venezuela responded to Chile and Canada, noting that both states are accused of serious violations against indigenous peoples.  

After the statements of states parties, three Observer States concluded statements. Iran praised the Prosecutor in discharging her mandate, particularly in relation to her involvement in the Palestine Situation, seeing this as a test for the Court. Iran stated to be determined to help the ICC achieve its goals. China rejected the principle of universal jurisdiction, and argued that the ICC should be guided by the principle that treaties do not create obligations for third parties, nor extend to the nationals of non-state parties. Cuba expressed concern about the UNSC referral process and over investigations by the Court into states that have not accepted the jurisdiction of the Court, which undermines the principle of complementarity. Cuba also emphasized that the definition of aggression should not be limited to the use of force, but should also encompass measures that influence the political independence of a country.

Finally, civil society addressed the ASP, following statements from the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Mission, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Sovereign Order of Malta, which expressed its desire that the international community addresses the trafficking of individuals, and the International Criminal Court Bar Association that Court, which underlined that ICC staff must have the highest level of ethics and conduct. Several NGOs, including the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Parliamentarians for Global Action, No Peace Without Justice, and the International Federation for Human Rights, called upon states parties to strongly support and defend the court, addressed issues of cooperation and underlined their commitment to the work of the Court. William Pace announced that he is stepping down as convener of the CICC after 24 years.

The general debate will continue later during the 17thASP, with the statement of 7 other NGOs.