The Crime of Aggression: Still a live issue

Liechtenstein hosted a panel this morning at the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) titled “The ICC’s Jurisdiction Over the Crime of Aggression”. This panel sought to discuss the significance and broader context of the crime of aggression. Panelists included IntLawGrrl Jennifer Trahan, Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, David Donat Cattin, Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action, and Donald Ferencz, the Convenor of the Global Institute on the Prevention of Aggression. This panel complemented many of the comments that States made at the General Debate session held yesterday that continued after this panel on the activation of the crime of aggression.

Many States Parties made supportive statements on the activation of the crime of aggression during the General Debate on Day 1 that continued after Liechtenstein’s panel today on Day 2. Austria spoke on behalf of the European Union (EU) in support of the activation of the crime of aggression, and all EU member states commented that they supported Austria’s statement. Most notably, however, France was quite critical of the Kampala Amendments as promoting division amongst States Parties when the focus should be universality. China as well was critical of the Amendments, stating that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should not undermine the Security Council, as it is this body that is responsible for upholding international peace and security. Given that China is a permanent member of the Security Council and is not a party to the ICC, this comment is not surprising. Many states commented that they are in the process of ratifying the Amendments, which was a welcome announcement, including Paraguay and Greece.

During the panel, Jennifer Trahan began the discussion with an analysis of the text of Article 8bis of the Rome Statute which enumerates the crime of aggression. As discussed in my previous post, Trahan stated that the language in Article 8bis derives from the London Statute of the Nuremberg Tribunal and that the crime of aggression is not meant to encompass all violations of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, but manifest violations. Manifest violations, she clarified, are those that are super clear and not in a grey zone. She also discussed the novel jurisdictional regime that exists within the crime of aggression with regard to state and proprio motu referrals compared to the other three international crimes:  non-States Parties to the Rome Statute are completely excluded from the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression; not all States Parties are automatically covered by 15bis jurisdiction; and there is an opt-out method for States to opt out of the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime.


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David Donat Cattin held a very positive view on the activation of the crime of aggression and discussed some of the progress being made for further ratifications. He referenced the Austrian delegate’s support for the activation of the crime of aggression on behalf of the EU and hoped that this statement would have an impact on other EU member states to encourage their ratification. He also mentioned that the Dominican Republic will be voting on whether to ratify the amendment in the next year. He added that the Central African Republic is likely to join because they are subjected to foreign interference on all sides. He also mentioned that South Africa highlighted the historic significance of the Kampala Amendments at the General Debate, so this may indicate its ratification in the next year.

Donald Ferencz completed the panel with some very engaging comments that started with this statement: “the rule of law is for the little people”. He commented that a state like Liechtenstein, who has ratified the Amendments, is likely not about to commit the crime of aggression, but two permanent members of the Security Council who are also States Parties to the Rome Statute (referencing the UK and France) have not ratified the Amendments. This sends the message that this law/crime is not for bigger states like the UK and France, but is for the smaller states, who are unlikely to be the ones committing the crime in the first place. This was quite an interesting comment in light of France’s statement regarding the Kampala Amendments promoting division at the General Debate yesterday.

One quite interesting debate that evolved out of the panel concerned how to hold state officials liable for the crime of aggression when the state is not a party to the Rome Statute, with specific reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This question was first brought up by Sabine Nolke, Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands. A few intervenors were of the view that, in the case of Russia, war crimes committed in Ukraine (because Ukraine is a party to the Rome Statute) can be prosecuted and the Court could consider the fact that Russia committed an act of aggression as an aggravating factor in the prosecution of war crimes and in sentencing. Nolke and members of the panel, however, cautioned against this view because it suggests that war crimes committed in non-aggressive wars are less grave or less prosecutable. She and the panelists stressed that war crimes are war crimes no matter the context, and they should not be treated differently based on whether or not there is an aggressive war.

States’ comments during the General Debate and the discussion during this panel indicate that, although there seems to be a large degree of support for the activation of the crime, ratification is still a live issue and questions of jurisdiction are far from settled.

This blogpost and the author’s attendance to the 17thAssembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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The Crime of Aggression: 1 Year Later


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This year’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) marks the first time the Court and States Parties will discuss the crime of aggression since its activation last year, and it will be interesting to hear what States Parties have to say about it. One issue that may be addressed includes the relationship between the Court and the Security Council given that the Security Council must first determine that an act of aggression has occurred before the Court can prosecute the crime of aggression (there is, however, an exception to this if 6 months have passed since the Security Council was made aware that an alleged act of aggression has occurred and has not made a determination). The implementation of the Kampala Amendments is another potential issue because there has been debate surrounding whether the amendments should be universally implemented for all States Parties to the Rome Statute or only for those that ratify the amendment. A third potential issue of discussion is how the Court will fund the addition of this crime to its jurisdiction given the already constrained budget.

The crime of aggression is the fourth crime enumerated under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Twenty years ago, States could not agree upon the definition of the crime of aggression when the text of the Rome Statute was negotiated, thereby excluding crimes of aggression from the Court’s jurisdiction.

The definition was finally agreed upon in 2010 through the Kampala Amendments, but negotiating States decided that the Court would still not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression until one year after 30 member states had ratified the Amendments and it was promulgated by the Assembly of States Parties (ASP).

As Palestine was the 30th State to ratify the Amendments in June 2016, the ASP agreed to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression during their meetings in December of 2017. The Court’s jurisdiction officially became active on July 17, 2018.

The key issue and reason for the delay in agreeing to the text of the crime was the lack of agreement on whether the Court could exercise jurisdiction for the crime of aggression over the nationals of States Parties to the Rome Statute who had not ratified the Amendments. The wide view on this issue is that the Court has jurisdiction when the crime occurs on the territory of a State which has ratified the Amendment. Still, there are those, including Canada, that believe that the Court would not have jurisdiction over state referrals or proprio motu investigations when the alleged crime is committed by nationals of non-ratifying States or on their territory.

The crime of aggression essentially allows for individual criminal responsibility for violations of Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations. Article 2(4) prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. However, not all violations of the prohibition on the use of force will constitute a crime of aggression: only the most serious and dangerous forms.

The Rome Statute is the first modern criminal tribunal to include the crime of aggression, but the International Military Tribunals (IMT) in Nuremberg and Tokyo included prosecutions and convictions for crimes against peace, which criminalized those involved in waging wars of aggression or wars in violation of international treaties. The language of the crime of aggression was borne out of and based on the Charter of the IMT.

The crime of aggression has not been prosecuted yet and there is no precedent for the Court to follow. It will be interesting to see how the Court interprets the crime once the first charges are made, and if it takes any guidance from the IMTs or develops its own interpretation.

Stay tuned for updates!

This blogpost and my attendance to the 17th Assembly of States Parties are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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L’adoption par consensus de la résolution en vue de l’activation de la compétence de la Cour pénale internationale à l’égard du crime d’agression


Plusieurs représentants des Etats Parties en consultation avec les Vice-Présidents lors de la session plénière visant à l’adoption de la résolution relative à l’agression.

L’activation de la compétence de la Cour pénale internationale (CPI) à l’égard du crime d’agression a fait l’objet de longues négociations tout au long de la 16ème Assemblée des États Parties (AÉP) qui a eu lieu au siège des Nations Unies, à New York, du 4 au 14 décembre 2017. Après de vifs débats et discussions, la résolution ICC-ASP/16/L.10* en vue de l’activation de la compétence de la Cour à l’égard du crime d’agression a été adoptée par consensus, tard dans la nuit du 15 décembre. Cette contribution vise à rendre compte de quelques positions des États qui ont été exposées tant dans le débat général que lors de l’adoption par consensus de la résolution.

Dans le cadre du débat général, les Pays-Bas ont réitéré leur engagement et leur soutien à la Cour en soulignant que la lutte contre l’impunité était la pierre angulaire du système institué par le Statut de Rome. En ce qui concerne le crime d’agression et l’activation de la compétence de la Cour, les Pays-Bas ont fait valoir que les amendements de Kampala constituent une victoire historique contre l’impunité et que cette AÉP a la chance de pouvoir, à nouveau, écrire l’histoire en consolidant le message porté par Nuremberg, soit celui du triomphe contre la barbarie et de l’égalité devant de la loi. Le Liechtenstein et la Slovénie ont exprimé des positions dans le même sens.

Les Philippines, tout en réaffirmant que la CPI est une Cour de dernier ressort, ont souligné la nécessité de renoncer à la guerre comme moyen de conduite de la politique en soutenant l’activation de la compétence de la Cour à l’égard du crime d’agression et de la guerre afin de se conformer aux obligations découlant de la Charte des Nations Unies, dont l’article 2, § 4, prohibe l’usage de la force dans la conduite des relations diplomatiques.

Le représentant du Costa Rica a rappelé qu’à un an du 20ème anniversaire du Statut de Rome, le fondement de la CPI a été le fondement de l’empire du droit, présentant la Cour comme une institution de valeur exceptionnelle et non comme une organisation internationale de plus. En effet, la figure de la Cour s’avère indispensable aujourd’hui et dans le futur pour sanctionner, en dernier ressort et dans le respect du principe de complémentarité, les crimes internationaux les plus graves. Ainsi, pour le Costa Rica, l’activation du crime d’agression, la garantie de l’indépendance judiciaire de la Cour et du respect du Statut de Rome doivent avoir un caractère dissuasif en vue de la protection des États qui n’ont pas les moyens de repousser une agression armée. C’est pour cela qu’une CPI renforcée répond au besoin de garantir la paix et la sécurité internationales, le Statut de Rome devant être l’instrument suprême pour éradiquer le crime d’agression conformément à la Charte des Nations Unies.

La Suisse a rappelé aux États les engagements pris au titre de la Charte des Nations Unies et a souligné le besoin de renforcer l’interdiction du recours à la force dans les relations interétatiques, en félicitant le Panama qui a été le 35ème État à ratifier les Amendements de Kampala. Si, en 1998, les États sont parvenus à un accord pour inclure dans la compétence de la Cour « le crime des crimes » et qu’en 2010, un accord a été trouvé en vue de la définition de l’agression, il apparaissait essentiel, en 2017, de déterminer l’étendue de la protection des victimes potentielles d’une agression. La représentante suisse a mis l’accent sur la dépendance des petits États du respect de l’ordre international, face à des États puissants qui ont les moyens d’assurer leur propre défense et de faire valoir leurs intérêts, en rappelant que cette décision historique de l’activation revenait à privilégier l’État du droit ou le règne du pouvoir.

Le Botswana, premier État africain à avoir ratifié les Amendements de Kampala, a apporté également son soutien à l’activation du crime d’agression en estimant que l’entrée en vigueur de la compétence de la Cour constituerait un énorme pas dans la progression de la justice pénale internationale grâce à la criminalisation de l’usage de la force illégal pouvant être sanctionné de manière pénale. Dès le débat général, l’État indépendant des Samoa a exprimé sa déception et son découragement de voir le peu de soutien de la part des États à l’égard du crime d’agression et leur volonté de négocier a minima l’activation de la compétence de la Cour à travers les négociations et les discussions.

Les divergences entre les États petits en faveur d’une pleine et entière activation de la compétence de la CPI à l’égard de l’agression, et les États puissants favorables à une activation limitée, se sont reflétées au moment des discussions visant à l’adoption de la résolution finale, bien que tous les États aient manifesté leur souhait en vue d’une adoption par consensus, redoutant le recours au vote.

Tout au long de l’AÉP, les réunions des groupes de travail ont été fermées au public et les débats de la journée de clôture se sont déroulés à huit-clos. Les deux propositions de résolution soumises par la représentante de l’Autriche, en charge de mener les négociations, ont toutes les deux été rejetées par les États. C’est finalement la Vice-Présidence qui a soumis la proposition de résolution finale en soulignant que ce texte n’était pas ouvert à une renégociation. Le texte a été simplement revu en raison d’une erreur substantielle dans un des paragraphes opérants. Cependant, avant son adoption par consensus, de nombreux États ont laissé transparaître leurs inquiétudes, fait valoir plusieurs points de vue et ont tenté de modifier la version finale du texte.

La position de l’État de Palestine exprimée dans le débat général résume assez bien le point de désaccord fondamental, à savoir l’exclusion de la juridiction de la Cour à l’égard du crime d’agression si celui-ci a eu lieu sur le territoire ou à l’égard des nationaux d’un État Partie au Statut de Rome qui n’a pas ratifié les amendements de Kampala et a choisi l’opt-out. Le représentant de la Palestine a pointé le fait qu’il s’agissait d’accorder l’immunité des nationaux et territoires de certains États, en instaurant le régime le plus restrictif pour un crime international. Il était particulièrement en faveur d’une activation consensuelle mais non d’une activation négociée en imposant le consentement nécessaire pour que les nationaux d’un État puissent être traduits devant la CPI et non d’une manière qui n’assure pas une protection suffisante aux États vulnérables. C’est pourtant seulement de cette manière et avec une telle clause que le consensus a pu être trouvé parmi les États, clause figurant au § 2 de la résolution finale ICC-ASP/16/L.10*.

Les défenseurs de cette clause dont le Canada, le Mexique, l’Espagne, le Venezuela, la France, le Royaume-Uni et le Japon souhaitaient également que le § 3 de la résolution réaffirmant les articles 40, § 1, et 119, § 1, du Statut de Rome relatifs à l’indépendance judiciaire des juges de la CPI soit déplacé de cette partie opérative au dernier paragraphe du Préambule. Ces États ont tenté d’imposer cette modification comme nécessaire pour parvenir au consensus. Néanmoins, plusieurs interventions des représentants des États opposés à cette ultime modification et renégociation de la résolution présentée comme finale par la Vice-Présidence de l’Assemblée, ont souligné l’indispensable indépendance judiciaire dont les juges doivent disposer dans l’exercice de leurs pouvoirs et ont fait valoir leur incompréhension à l’égard de la réticence de réaffirmer avec force ce principe fondamental dans le domaine de la justice. Ainsi, après plusieurs discussions et derniers temps de réflexion, cette demande de modification a été rejetée par le Vice-Président et la résolution a pu être adoptée en l’état, par consensus.


La publication de ce billet et la participation de Silviana à la 16e Assemblée des États Parties dans le cadre du Partenariat canadien pour la justice internationale ont été financées par le Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada

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Preliminary examinations: A closer look at one of the most important parts of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s work

Sara Wharton and Rosemary Grey

Preliminary examinations are in the limelight following the release of the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP’s) 2017 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, which was presented today at the 16th session of the ICC Assembly of States Parties in New York.

Additionally, recent developments in several situations under preliminary examination have garnered attention, including the Prosecutor’s decision to seek authorisation to open investigations in Afghanistan and Burundi and affirmation of her 2014 decision not to proceed with an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by members of the Israel Defence Forces on the vessels of Comoros, Cambodia, and Greece.

In this period of heightened interest in ICC preliminary examinations, we want to take the opportunity to share some findings of our forthcoming study, which tracks and compares data across all 25 preliminary examinations that have been publicised to date.[1]

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16th Session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Opening Plenary Main Themes

The Opening Plenary of the 16th Session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ASP) took place earlier this morning in New York. The ASP is the management oversight and legislative body of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Several themes emerged from the opening plenary which are worthy of note. This blog post will highlight three main themes from the first plenary of the ASP. First, the President of the ASP highlighted the need for States Parties of the ICC to cooperate with the ICC. Second, as reiterated by the current President of the ASP as well as the new President-elect of the ASP, the ICC is a distinct kind of court which has not yet reached its full potential. Third, the Prosecutor of the ICC emphasized the need to foster a culture of accountability to prosecute perpetrators of international crimes.


President Sidiki Kaba addressing the 16th Session of the Assembly of States Parties.

1. Cooperation from States Parties essential to workings of the ICC

The President of the ASP, Mr. Sidiki Kaba, in his address to the ASP, called for the continued cooperation between States Parties and the ICC in order to boost the effectiveness of the Court. This is especially important where some African States have begun to signal their intention to withdraw from the ICC. The meeting of the ASP at its 16th session is an important juncture in time when the work and value of the ICC should be safeguarded especially through increased cooperation from States Parties. Mr. Kaba reiterated that the ICC only steps in when there is a clear lack of will or an inability by a country to prosecute its nationals in accordance with the complementarity rule. This means that cooperation from States Parties is essential in order for the workings of the ICC to be effective. In addition, training should be provided to judges, lawyers, security officers and others in order to safeguard the complementarity rule. Furthermore, national determination processes must meet the highest international standards and norms. Finally, in order to ensure reparations for victims of international crimes, support for the ICC Trust Fund for Victims is necessary to support victims.

2. ICC can still reach its full potential

In his address to the ASP, Mr. Kaba further reiterated that the ICC is a distinct kind of court, where independence is essential in order to safeguard its credibility and legitimacy. The judicial independence of the ICC should not be an impediment to its efforts, which has been his main priority during the tenure of his presidency. Mr. Kaba stated that there are certain areas which the ICC should work, including the need to focus upon the legal representation of victims, and the emphasis required for reparations for victims for international crimes and the availability of legal aid for victims. As President, Mr. Kaba sought to promote a cohesive judicial culture which is vital in order to accelerate judicial proceedings and to facilitate the understanding of the parties and victims involved. Another key area is making sure that officials of the ICC uphold their integrity. Mr. Kaba announced the mapping of all relevant existing goals of ethics relating to the duties of elected officials while they are in office and after their departure. Mr. Kaba also stated that the ICC has increased its outreach efforts to victims of international crimes and that the participation and reparation of victims are central to the role of the ICC.

At the 16th session of the ASP, Mr. Kaba announced the election of Judge O-Gon Kwon from the Republic of Korea by acclamation as the next President of the ASP effective for the 17th, 18th and 19th sessions of the ASP until 2020. Judge O-Gon Kwon has vast experience in law at both national and international levels including serving as a judge for 22 years and holding senior positions in the government of the Republic of Korea. Judge O-Gon Kwon, in his address to the ASP, emphasized the need for cooperation between the States Parties and the ICC. Judge O-Gon Kwon stated that the Kampala Amendments of the Rome Statute on the crime of aggression was adopted by consensus and therefore is a milestone for the ASP. Judge O-Gon Kwon reiterated that international criminal justice is very much a work-in-progress – a project very much in its infancy. Further, it is critical that the ICC maintain its neutrality, impartiality and independence which requires the careful balancing of viewpoints. It is vital to liaise and facilitate cooperation between the States Parties and the ICC and this cooperation is indispensable for a well-functioning court. As the new President of the ASP, Judge O-Gon Kwon announced that he will reach out to those States that have not yet ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC and will work closely with the ICC and civil society to promote universality.

3. The Office of the Prosecutor is steadfast in its commitment to the Rome Statute

The Prosecutor of the ICC, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, began her address to the ASP by stating that the ICC is a firmly rooted but still evolving institution and has a potential for global impact. The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC is working jointly towards a culture of accountability for crimes of mass atrocities. The commitment of States Parties will be the key to determining the trajectories of this path. The investigations of Afghanistan and Burundi are indicators of the steadfast commitment of the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC. Ms. Bensouda emphasized that Burundi’s withdrawal from the ICC has no effect on its continuing obligation to cooperate with the ICC or the period during which Burundi was an ICC State Party of the ICC. Ms. Bensouda ended her address to the ASP by reiterating that what is needed today is the strengthening of the ICC, and it would be up to the States Parties as custodians to stand firm to safeguard its values.

As the 16th session of the ASP continues, more themes such as these will emerge, highlighting the importance of the work of the ICC as well as that of the Office of the Prosecutor. Main plenary sessions will be complemented by side events hosted by nongovernmental organizations.

Follow the IntLawGrrls symposium for periodic posts on the ASP as it is happening!

This blogpost and my attendance to the 16th Assembly of States Parties in the framework of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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Regret & Support, Speeches on the Court

This afternoon began the first lengthy session of speeches from States Parties to the Assembly at the World Forum in The Hague. To no one’s surprise, many of the States took the opportunity to address the withdrawal of South Africa, Burundi, and the Gambia from the Court in their remarks and no doubt this will continue to be the case as the speeches continue tomorrow. Overwhelmingly the sentiment from the States who spoke, such as Australia, Canada, Colombia, the Republic of Korea and Slovakia (on behalf of the European Union), was one of regret. Regret that these three States have taken the step towards leaving the Court, rather than continue a dialogue within the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) about their concerns with the Court. Regret that these developments have flown in the face of efforts to see the Rome Statute be truly universal. Regret, because when States parties leave the court, the enforcement of international criminal law becomes harder.

Along with their expressions of regret, States were quick to note that these decisions to withdraw were nonetheless legal decisions by sovereign states, made following the rule set forth by Article 127 of the Rome Statute. They also urged dialogue with these States as well as other States who have expressed concerns in recent weeks and months. As the Representative from Ecuador stated, it is much better to be within an institution if you seek changes, rather than on the outside. However, most States were equally firm in stressing, that while open to and encouraging of dialogue, no compromise of the fundamental values of the Court would be had, they stressed that the integrity of the Court is of utmost importance. Perhaps the strongest voicing of this sentiment came from Switzerland, which declared it would rather have an effective ICC supported by many states, than a weakened court supported by all.

The specific content of these fundamental values was rarely elaborated upon by States; however, Italy clearly and unequivocally stated that the principle of irrelevance of official capacity in Art 27 remains the central pillar of the treaty adopted in Rome in 1998. Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stéphane Dion, noted, with regard to Head of State immunity, that equality before and under the law is a bedrock principle of the Court. Finally, Costa Rica stressed that action against the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity should be taken without consideration of the official status of the individual.

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