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.