Sixth Plenary Meeting of the ASP17

Overview by Vicki Tien, Research Associate PILPG NL


  • Issues of universality, geographical representation, and gender imbalance within the Court’s staff were widely discussed during the plenary session

  • Several countries and panelists expressed their concerns over the threats made against the Court.

  • Many states call upon the Court to improve its efficiency, transparency, and accountability. 

  • Professor John Dugard issues a critical speech, calling the ICC Eurocentric and protective of EU interests. He urged the ASP to respond to the threats made by the U.S.

At the 6thplenary meeting of the 17thAssembly of States Parties on 7 December 2018, a session dedicated to the 20thanniversary of the Rome Statute, panelists addressed the changes and the challenges that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has faced since the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998. The panel session aimed to look back at 20 years of the Rome Statute and to identify the solutions needed for the ICC to carry out its mandate effectively in the following decades. 

The panelists for this session included: H.E. Mr. Sergio Ugalde, Ambassador of Costa Rica to the Netherlands, H.E. Ms. Ms. Brândușa-Ioana Predescu, Ambassador of Romania to the Netherlands, H.E. Ms. Namira Negm, Legal Counsel of the African Union, H.E. Ms. María Teresa Infante Caffi, Ambassador of Chile to the Netherlands, Mr. John Dugard, Professor of Leiden University, and Mr. Bill Pace, Convenor of the CICC. After the initial speeches of the panelists, an interactive part with states and NGOs followed. 

The plenary session started with a short video featuring numerous delegates from states or organizations around the globe who all expressed their determination to fight against impunity along with the Court. 

Notably, issues of universality, geographical representation, and gender imbalance within the Court were widely discussed during the plenary session. On the issue of universality, Mr. Sergio Ugalde declared that universality would continue to be a key issue for the Court. Some states, such as New Zealand, emphasized that the principle of universality lies within the heart of the Court. The AU Legal Counsel, Ms. Negm, on the other hand, warned ICC Member States to think twice when speaking about universality as it may lead to more withdrawals from the Rome Statute, and, according to her, it is necessary to examine the issue from a different angle. As for the issues of gender imbalance and geographical representation, Mr. Ugalde urged the Court to battle the perception that it is only focused on the African continent. Brazil and Bangladesh also underlined the problems regarding geographical representation and gender imbalance within the Court. Brazil called on the ASP to correct the ICC’s imbalanced geographical representation, as according to Brazil, diversity would ensure stability and is crucial for a stronger and more legitimate international court.

On the relationship between the ICC and international organizations, Mr. Bill Pace, Convenor of the CICC, lauded the work of the European Union for its relationship and cooperation with the Court and called on the Court to establish similar relationships with other international organizations, specifically the African Union. A call also made by Ms. Predescu, emphasizing the need for better cooperation between international institutions. Meanwhile, South Africa encouraged the Court to create more dialogue with the African Union. As for the relationship between the ICC and UN Security Council, the African Union claimed that the Security Council is a political body and must limit its intervention for a judicial body. 

On the head of state immunity issue, AU legal counsel Ms. Negm addressed the relationship between Article 27 and Article 98 of the Rome Statute and she argued that Article 27 has encroached on Article 98. 

Panelists and multiple countries expressed their stance on the threats made against the Court. For instance, the delegate of Palestine addressed the threats directed at the Court, especially criticizing the U.S. for political bullying and an attitude of hostility. The delegate went on to underline the importance for the ICC to remain shielded from politics and interference, calling the Preliminary Examination in Palestine a litmus test for the Court, now more than ever. France claimed that pressures and threats against the ICC are intolerable. CICC Convenor Mr. Pace likewise recognized serious threats against the Court and called for diversity of perspectives to solve the problem. Human Rights Watch urged the Court not be deterred by the threat of the U.S. It encouraged all States Parties to stand united in order to protect the Court’s independence from external interference. 

While Professor Dugard also criticized the threats made by the U.S., particularly by U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, he was even more critical towards European states, calling the ICC Eurocentric and protective of European interests. He strongly called upon the ASP to respond to the U.S. threats and to protect the Court boldly and bravely. His criticism expanded to NGOs, including the CICC, who should not be reluctant to voice criticism according to him. He concluded by stating that the ICC, encouraged by the ASP must ensure that vulnerable states are protected by vigorous and not unduly delayed prosecutions because “only then can the ICC complete its goals.” 

Despite the threats directed at the Court, many states as well as panelists agreed that the Court should accept positive criticism for improvements. Sierra Leone lauded the work done by the Court but claimed that the Court is not immune to positive criticism. Liechtenstein, in response to Dugard’s statements, made clear that it does not see the ICC is driven by politics, but sees that the Office of the Prosecutor is independent and driven by the law. Liechtenstein did express disappointment with the way States Parties are supporting the Court: States Parties can and have to do more in protecting and supporting the Court. 

Many states, including Austria, New Zealand, and Italy, encouraged the Court to improve its efficiency, transparency, and accountability and urged all States Parties to unitedly protect the independence of the Court in order to allow the Court to fulfill its mandate. As the Chilean ambassador emphasized: “We have to foster a culture of accountability.”