Monthly News Update: International Criminal Court - March 2019

BY ISABELLA BANKS, RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT PILPG-NL

In the past month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) released a number of important updates. Among them were reactions by senior ICC officials to Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute and the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute two weeks later.

AFRICA

Central Mali | Statement of the ICC Proscutor, Fatou Bensouda, on Reported Upsurge of Violence and Mass Killings in Mopti Region, Central Mali

On March 25, 2019, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda released a statement condemning vicious attacks in the Mopti region of central Mali, which allegedly resulted in the massacre of over 130 civilians. She called on all parties to refrain from further violence and stated that a delegation from the OTP would meet with the relevant Malian authorities within a week to discuss the matter.

The ICC’s formal investigation into the situation in Mali began in 2013, and focuses on war crimes allegedly committed in the northern regions of Gao, Kidal, and Timbuktu since January 2012.

ASIA  

Bangladesh | Statement of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court at the Conclusion of its Visit to Bangladesh (6-11 March 2019)

From March 6-11, 2019 the Office of Prosecutor (OTP) conducted its first field visit to Bangladesh. The visit was intended to engage and educate relevant stakeholders about the Court’s ongoing preliminary examination into the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh. According to the OTP, it also served as an opportunity for the delegation to visit refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and gain new insights that “will continue to inform the Office’s ongoing assessment of the situation.”

The OTP expressed its gratitude for the strong support it received from government authorities of Bangladesh, and stated that in addition to being productive, the visit helped the Office “to fully appreciate the sheer magnitude and severity of this human tragedy.”

The ICC’s most recent report on its preliminary examination activities can be accessed here.

Malaysia | President of the Assembly of States Parties Welcomes Malaysia’s Accession to the Rome Statute

On March 4, 2019, President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), Mr. O-Gon Kwon, enthusiastically welcomed Malaysia’s instrument of accession to the Rome Statute of the ICC, which had been signed by the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs and deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations earlier that day. The important development came as a result of the Malaysian Cabinet’s unanimous decision in favor of ratification on December 12, 2018, as well as two decades of advocacy by a number of civil society actors.

Mr. O-Gon Kwon congratulated the government and people of Malaysia for the commitment, remarking that he looked forward to a “vibrant cooperation between Malaysia and the ICC” and that he hoped that other States – particularly in the Asia-Pacific region – would follow Malaysia’s example.

Malaysia is the 124th State Party of the ICC. The Statute will enter into force for Malaysia on June 1, 2019, in accordance with Article 126(2) of the Rome State.

Malaysia | President Eboe-Osuji: We Are Inspired To See Malaysia Join the ICC

On March 6, 2019, President of the ICC, Chile Eboe-Osuji, joined Mr. O-Gon Kwon in expressing his delight at Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute. He called the decision “inspiring” and “a veritable act of recognition of the continuing value of the Rome Statute and the ICC.”

President Eboe-Osuji’s statement can be viewed on video here.

Philippines | President of the Assembly of States Parties Regrets the Withdrawal from the Rome Statute by the Philippines

In response to the Philippines’ official withdrawal from the ICC on March 17, 2019, President of the ASP, Mr. O-Gon Kwon, expressed his regret, stating: “I sincerely hope that the departure of the Philippines from the Rome Statute is only temporary and that it will re-join the Rome Statute family in the future.”

President of the Philippines, Mr. Rodrigo Duerte, announced his decision to leave the ICC in March of last year, but Court rules prevented the withdrawal from taking effect for a period of 12 months. President Duerte’s 2018 announcement came shortly after the ICC’s preliminary inquiry into allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in the course of President Duerte’s crackdown on narcotics became public.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since announced the OTP’s intention to continue its preliminary examination into the Philippines, stating that the Court retains jurisdiction over crimes committed while the state was party to the Statute, and “may exercise this jurisdiction even after the withdrawal becomes effective.”

 

EUROPE

Netherlands | “Remarks at Dinner Held on the Occasion of the 2019 Anne Frank Award” by Chile Eboe-Osuji President, International Criminal Court

On March 27, 2019 the ICC published President Chile Eboe-Osuji’s remarks at a dinner held on the occasion of the 2019 Anne Frank award. Each year, the Anne Frank award is presented to “an American person (or organization) who has demonstrated a body of work that confronts intolerance, anti-Semitism, racism, or discrimination while upholding freedom and equal rights in order to promote the effect functioning of an open, pluralistic, and democratic society.”

This year’s recipient of the Anne Frank award was Mr. Ben Ferencz, a Chief US Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and long-time supporter of the ICC. In his speech, President Eboe-Osuj described how Mr. Ferencz had contributed to “the idea that the methods of international law must be used to require accountability when people commit mass atrocities” though his pioneering effort at the Nuremberg proceedings, and thanked him for his continued support of the ICC through personal donations to the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV).

President Eboe-Osuji’s full remarks at the dinner can be read here.

Netherlands | On International Women’s Day, the ICC Joins Calls for Greater Equality

In recognition and celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019, the ICC announced that it was “taking concrete steps to further strengthen and promote gender equality” among its 900 staff. It highlighted the recent decisions of President Chile Eboe-Osuji, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, and Registrar Peter Lewis to join the International Gender Champions leadership network, which brings together decision-makers to break down gender barriers in their respective fields of influence and responsibility.

In related statements, President Eboe-Osuji called gender balance  a “key principle” of the ICC, and Prosecutor Bensouda affirmed the need to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based crimes committed against women and children.

NORTH AMERICA

United States | Statement by the President of the Assembly, O-Gon Kwon, Reiterating Strong Support for the ICC

In response to an unequivocally anti-ICC statement made by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on March 15, 2019, President of the ASP, Mr. O-Gon Kwon, reiterated the states parties’ “unwavering support” for the Rome Statute.

Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the US would withdraw or deny visas to any ICC personnel investigating alleged war crimes committed by US forces or its allies in Afghanistan. The announcement comes in the wake of a similarly threatening speech by US National Security Advisor John Bolton in September 2018, in which he called the ICC “illegitimate” and warned that it would face sanctions and possibly criminal prosecution if it proceeded with its Afghanistan investigation.

President O-Gon Kwon’s response emphasized the non-political and impartial nature of the ICC and its complementary relationship with domestic jurisdictions.

United States | ICC President’s Keynote Speech “A Tribute to Robert H. Jackson – Recalling America’s Contributions to International Criminal Justice at the Annual Meeting of American Society of International Law

On March 29, 2019, ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji delivered a keynote speech at the 113th annual meeting of American Society of International Law, which centered on the theme “International Law as an Instrument.”

President Eboe-Osuji’s speech paid tribute to Robert H Jackson, an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court and Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. The President noted that in 1945 speech at the same event, Associate Justice Jackson had called for a global society in which all nations “subject themselves to the rule of international law, for the benefit of all.”

President Eboe-Osuji referenced Jackson’s renunciation of “farcical judicial trails” and “courts that are organized merely to convict” to emphasize the importance of the right to a fair trial. He argued that the ICC had avoided such miscarriages of justice through its commitment to due process, stating: “The judges now on the Court are not impressed by the prospect of unpopularity of the decisions they make. Still, we want to be sure that there is no possibility whatsoever that a judge (or even a prosecutor) may prove unduly anxious to bullying criticisms of having ‘failed,’ whenever there is a judgment of acquittal in a criminal case.”

The speech concluded with a call on the US to join the ICC – “whose values and objectives are entirely consistent with the best instincts of America and her values” –  and support the cause of international criminal justice as it had in the past.