A region with a lot to offer
Asia-Pacific is one of the world’s most diverse regions, with a wide range of ethnic, religious, political and economic interests. This means the region features a range of different approaches to human rights, accountability, and the rule of law.
With 17 International Criminal Court (ICC) member states, the Asia-Pacific region has somewhat lagged behind in the fight for global justice as set out by the Rome Statute. To ensure the region is adequately represented at the ICC and in the Rome Statute system, an active civil society network is working throughout Asia and the Pacific to dispel myths about the impact of the ICC on state sovereignty and mainstream accountability throughout the region.
Despite some Asian states’ strides toward becoming economic and political global powerhouses, international justice advocates and victims’ communities continue to call for accountability for grave human rights abuses in a region that has been home to some of the world’s most protracted armed conflicts.
Progress around this goal can be seen in Japan’s leading role in the Rome Statute system, Cambodia’s ICC membership as well as domestic efforts to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders for historical crimes, and the leading role Asians have played as ICC judges and employees of the Court.
Meanwhile, atrocities in East Timor in 1999 saw the United Nations establish a temporary tribunal to punish those responsible, demonstrating the keen interest in international justice and accountability for serious offenses in the region.
Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region face crucial decisions on how to address their violent pasts while building towards sustainable peace and security. As envisaged by the Rome Statute system, the Coalition supports local discourses that prioritize victims’ perspectives and ending the culture of impunity through frameworks that respect fundamental rights and the rule of law.
International Criminal Court Situations
ICC situations in the Asia-Pacific region include a concluded preliminary investigation in the concluded Republic of Korea and an ongoing preliminary examination in Afghanistan.
The preliminary examination in Afghanistan is looking at whether national proceedings exist for alleged war crimes and crimes committed in Afghanistan after 1 May 2003.
Campaign for Global Justice
While 17 states in the region have become ICC member states, Asia-Pacific remains the least represented in the Rome Statute system.
Many states have invoked the principle of non-interference, threats to state sovereignty, and incompatibilities with existing legislation as reasons for not joining the ICC. Other states contend that the low likelihood of mass atrocities happening within their borders makes ratification of the Rome Statute a lesser priority.
South East Asia is a particularly underrepresented sub-region, with Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, and Vietnam all yet to accept ICC jurisdiction.
Pacific states such as Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Samoa, and Vanuatu have joined the Court. Pacific states have expressed eagerness to see environmental and climate issues threatening their existence become a focus for the ICC prosecutor.
10 Asia-Pacific countries have fully implemented Rome Statute crimes provisions into national law to allow for domestic prosecutions of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. 1 has partially done so. 5 Asia-Pacific countries have enacted legislation to allow for full cooperation with the ICC.
Taking the important step to fully implement Rome Statute crimes and principles, including cooperation provisions, is vital in region’s ability to provide genuine domestic avenues to address its peoples’ demands for justice.
A source of disappointment in the region has been major global players’—such as China, India, and Indonesia—refusal to join the ICC system. These represent key focus countries for civil society awareness-raising and advocacy efforts. All three have ignored United Nations Security Council appeals to assist in the arrest and surrender of ICC fugitive Omar al-Bashir.
Indonesia has however indicated on several occasions that it would move forward with ratification.
Civil society activities
Civil society organizations in the Asia-Pacific region are among the strongest advocates for joining the ICC. Encouraged by the potential role that the Rome Statute can play in enhancing domestic legal systems and providing protection for populations against grave crimes, international and local Coalition members are working to clarify misconceptions about joining the ICC and to mobilize key partners to galvanize political will around responsible governance.
We work throughout the region to ensure that the principles of accountability, justice, and respect for human rights remain at the forefront of national and regional agendas. The Philippine national Coalition for the ICC, one of 14 national coalitions in the region, has been one such civil society group leading the way, with its tireless campaigning for over a decade resulting in the country’s move to join the ICC in 2011. Nepal and Malaysia boast similarly active civil society networks.