Welcome to IntLawGrrls’ symposium on the annual meeting of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Assembly of States Parties (ASP). The 18th session of the Assembly runs from December 2-7 in The Hague, Netherlands.
This year’s ASP will hold a plenary discussion on inter-State and regional cooperation initiatives for the effective implementation of the ICC’s mandate. It will also consider threats and challenges to the ICC, ways to strengthen the Rome Statute system, the 2020 ICC budget, preparations for the ICC elections of six new judges and a new Prosecutor taking place at next year’s ASP, victims’ rights, and potential amendments to the Statute, among other issues.
ASP President O-Gon Kwon opened the ASP, noting that “[t]his year the Assembly faces key decisions on the way forward in view of the anticipated review of the Court, one that would ultimately strengthen the Court and enable it to successfully confront the challenges that it faces today.” He also congratulated the newest state to accede to the Rome Statute, Kiribati, which deposited its instrument of accession on November 26. It will become the 123rd State Party.
ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji began his speech in a very direct manner, stating that “During the past 15 months, the ICC has been subjected to unprecedented threats in a very public way, from leading officials of the incumbent Government of a powerful country”, referring to the September 2018 speech by former US National Security Adviser John Bolton. Bolton threatened ICC officials with various sanctions to deter them from opening an investigation into the Afghanistan situation and potentially implicating US citizens. That threat was subsequently reiterated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the cancellation of the Prosecutor’s standing travel visa to the United States. Eboe-Osuji said: “These threats were made in a very plain and unvarnished attempt to subvert the ‘course’ of action of a legitimate multilateral judicial institution.” He continued, “notwithstanding that the Court will do its work undeterred, I must urge, in the most fervent terms, that YOU, the States Parties to the Rome Statute, must do all that it takes – and be prepared to do more – to counter these threats, in all their ramifications.” The Prosecutor’s appeal on her request to open an investigation into the Afghanistan situation will be heard at the ICC this week.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda presented an overview of her Office’s successes and challenges from the past year. The successes include the opening of an investigation into the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar, while the failures include the acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé and the judges’ denial of her request to open an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan (currently on appeal). Referring to international divisions, she stated that “it is precisely at times like these when international criminal justice and indeed efforts to address gross human rights violations are under assault; when we are witnessing a clash and crisis of fundamental values, the courage and conviction must guide our actions to protect our common values and goals as defined under the Rome Statute”. She noted that attacks against the ICC will undoubtedly rise as the Court increases its work in more situations.
The General Debate also began today, with statements from numerous states. Echoing ICC President Eboe-Osuji’s theme, many states highlighted the need for States Parties to robustly defend the ICC against external threats to its work and its independence. States also referred to measures aimed at reviewing the Court’s performance as being essential steps in reinforcing the Court’s effectiveness. A number of states discussed the specific challenges facing the Prosecutor when investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender based crimes.
Some of the speakers today also called for the adoption of an amendment to the Rome Statute to include starvation as a war crime in situations of non-international armed conflicts. This amendment would mirror the same crime aready listed in the context of international armed conflicts.
Many states were focused on the 2020 elections of the next Prosecutor and six new judges, calling for transparent and objective processes to nominate and elect the most highly qualified individuals to lead the Court. Both Georgia and the United Kingdom announced judicial candidates for those elections.
One side event to take note of today was the launch of “The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence”, which aim to translate the lived experience of sexual violence survivors into law and policy. These were created as a result of consultations throughout 2019 with more than 500 survivors, over 50 civil society organisations, legal practitioners, academics, and policy makers.
Members of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice present at the ASP will join this symposium each day to provide their views on ongoing developments at the Assembly.