As a delegate of the Public International Law and Policy Group, I had the honor of attending the 16th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which took place from December 4-14 at the United Nations’ Headquarters in New York City. In addition to the election of new judges, the most important themes of this year’s ASP included cooperation and whether to add the crime of aggression to the Rome Statute. Some posts have already been published on the latter (see here and here), but as of now, it is unclear which version of the circulated texts on aggression may have been adopted last night. Thus, I plan to report more on the crime of aggression later. This post will focus instead on the topic of cooperation, in the context of this year’s ASP.
States which have ratified the Rome Statute and are thus members of the ICC have a treaty-based duty to cooperate with the court. While some states have routinely carried out this international law obligation, others have not. In particular, several states have failed to execute the ICC’s arrest warrants regarding Sudanese President Al-Bashir. The ICC issued two arrest warrants for Al-Bashir, in 2009 and in 2010, after the Security Council referred the Darfur situation to the court for an investigation in 2005, through Resolution 1593. States which are members of the ICC have a treaty-based duty to execute the court’s arrest warrant by arresting the subject of the warrant if he or she happens to be on their territory. In addition, the Sudan situation was referred to the ICC through Security Council Resolution 1593; in cases of Security Council referral, it may be argued that all states, not only ICC member states, have a duty to cooperate with the court. The text of Resolution 1593 supports this argument:
Decides that the Government of Sudan and all other parties to the conflict in Darfur, shall cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the Prosecutor pursuant to this resolution and, while recognizing that States not party to the Rome Statute have no obligation under the Statute, urges all States and concerned regional and other international organizations to cooperate fully.
Resolution 1593 recognizes that states which are not parties to the Rome Statute do not have a treaty-based duty to cooperate with the ICC, which is why the Resolution itself “urges” all states and other regional and international organizations to cooperate with the court. Thus, according to this argument, all states have a duty to arrest Al-Bashir, in light of Resolution 1593, if he chose to travel to their territory, and to deliver him to The Hague.
While several “western” states support this view and have called for all states to cooperate with the ICC by arresting those wanted by the court, many African states reject this view. Al-Bashir has traveled freely to several African countries in the decade following the ICC arrest warrant – most recently to Uganda and South Africa. Many African countries have insisted that heads of state, such as Al-Bashir, have immunity from international criminal prosecutions, and that the ICC arrest warrant against a sitting head of state breaches the international law principle of state sovereignty. The recently negotiated Malabo Protocol, adopted by the African Union in 2014, extends the jurisdiction of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR) to crimes under international law and transnational crimes. The Protocol reflects the view, espoused by many African leaders in the context of the ICC Al-Bashir arrest warrant, that heads-of-state should be immune from prosecution, by including a provision on head-of-state immunity. In addition, many African states have argued that Resolution 1593, which referred the Darfur situation to the ICC, imposes a cooperation obligation only on member states of the ICC, not on non-member states.
At the ASP, the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, briefed the Security Council on the situation in Darfur. Following Prosecutor Bensouda’s briefing, several states offered comments on the Darfur situation, as well as on the Al-Bashir arrest warrant. Predictably, most western states, including European nations such as France, United Kingdom, Italy, and Sweden, condemned states for not cooperating with the ICC and urged all states to execute the ICC arrest warrant. Additional states which supported this view included Senegal, Ukraine, Japan, Bolivia, Uruguay, and the United States. Other states, predictably, held the opposite view and insisted on head-of-state immunity from ICC prosecution, as well as on state sovereignty. Such states included Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Russia, and China. Finally, Kazakhstan seemed to adopt a middle ground position, by encouraging Sudan to continue to make progress in humanitarian efforts in the Darfur region, and by urging everyone in the international community to respect Sudan’s sovereignty and independence. These Security Council members’ positions, although unsurprising, shed light on the existing geo-political dilemma caused by the ICC arrest warrant of Al-Bashir, as well as on the different states’ positions regarding this issue. In general, western states tend to support the ICC (with the exception of the United States), and in general, most western states have insisted that all states should cooperate with the ICC in the execution of this arrest warrant (including the United States). Sudan, many African states, as well as Russia and China, have criticized the court for its Africa focus, and have argued that the arrest warrant improperly breaches fundamental principles of international law, such as state sovereignty as well as head-of-state immunity. Because of the current Russian and Chinese position on this issue, that Resolution 1593 does not nullify the principle of head-of-state immunity for heads of states which are not members of the ICC and that the international community should respect Sudan’s sovereignty and independence, it seems unlikely that a new Security Council resolution, clarifying the issue of head-of-state immunity, will be voted on this issue.
The academic (see here, here, and here, for example) and International Court of Justice view on the question of head-of-state immunity seems well-established: the principle of head-of-state immunity applies in national proceedings but not before international criminal tribunals (I note the important distinction between two different types of immunity: ratione personae and ratione materiae, which the academic literature cited here clearly addresses, but which this brief post will not go into. It suffices to say that for the purposes of various states’ arguments on immunity, as described above, the distinction is immaterial). In the Al-Bashir arrest warrant situation, the additional “wrinkle” is the existence of a Security Council resolution, which trumps state sovereignty-based arguments and imposes a duty on cooperation on all states, whether ICC members or not. Thus, the argument espoused by some African states, Russia, and China, at this year’s ASP seems clearly rooted in politics and contrary to established norms of international law.