This morning under sunny skies in Sydney, Australia, I joined thousands of women, men and children in solidarity with our sisters in the US to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump. Concerned about what the Trump Presidency will mean for the protection of women’s rights, and those of non-whites and LGBTIQ communities in the US, in Australia and across the globe, the large crowd joined in a rally against ‘anti-hatred, anti-bigotry and anti-misogyny’ then marched through the city centre. We called for respect for human rights everywhere, women’s freedom, protection for refugees and asylum seekers and the need for greater accountability in politics. As we gathered, we recognised the importance of the right to assembly and peaceful protest and the urgent need to protect these rights in the context of current worldwide political events. Wishing success to the protests everywhere today. The resistance has begun!
Headlines from the ICC in the last two weeks, including from the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) (20 – 28 November) and from the Bemba trial, highlight conflicting legitimacy concerns at the Court. For some, these developments demonstrate serious weaknesses in the ICC system, while others see them as a sign of the Court’s flexibility and move into a more mature phase of operation.
The most prominent news emanating from the ASP was the Kenyan Government’s partially successful attempts to change the ICC’s legal framework. Its efforts are linked to indictments against Kenya’s current President and Deputy President related to 2007 post-election violence. Due to its effective diplomatic maneuvers, Kenya secured a change to the Rules of Procedure and Evidence to reverse the requirement for accused to be present throughout the trial. Receiving majority support amongst the 122 states parties, the rules will be amended to allow an accused to request to be represented by counsel during parts of their trial or to be ‘virtually’ present via video link.
Kenya’s more radical proposal, to amend Article 27 of the Statute to remove immunity for sitting heads of state – a key ICC innovation, consistent with the fundamental principle that no one is above the law – was advanced too late for debate at the 2013 ASP. However, its win on the rule change, and political support from other African states, will undoubtedly strengthen Kenya’s resolve to pursue this issue at future meetings.
In the midst of these debates, on 24 November the Court announced that it had executed five arrest warrants in relation to the long running Bemba trial. Jean Pierre Bemba, former Vice President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is indicted for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in the Central African Republic. Those arrested included Bemba’s lead defence counsel, other defence team members and Bemba himself for crimes related to corruptly influencing witnesses and knowingly presenting false or forged evidence.
The 12th ASP was also notable for other developments. For the first time, the ASP included a victims plenary session. The session addressed challenges in implementing the ICC’s victims provisions, especially given resource constraints, and the need to better respond to specific categories of victims, especially those of sexual and gender based crimes. Continue reading