The Coalition for the ICC convenes States and global civil society during the 18th session of the Assembly of States Parties

Coalition for the ICC

From 2 to 6 December 2019, States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Court officials, civil society representatives and human rights defenders, and other key stakeholders gathered in The Hague for the 18th annual session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP).

In addition to formal plenary sessions during which States discussed key issues and took crucial decisions regarding the functioning of the ICC, including 2020 financial resources, amendments to the Rome Statute and election of officials, more than 50 side-events took place in the margins of ASP18, largely organized by civil society organisations in cooperation with like-minded governments. The side-events covered an endless list of themes: country-specific situations, relationships with other international and regional justice mechanisms, the principle of complementarity, victims’ and defence rights, among many others.

The Coalition for the ICC organized four regionally-focused side-events to enhance the dialogue among States and civil society from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Latin America & the Caribbean. The events aimed at discussing current challenges facing the ICC and the Rome Statute system, and addressing ways in which the Court’s effectiveness and independence, and the integrity of its founding Statute can be strengthened in the abovementioned regions and worldwide. Civil society representatives used these dedicated meetings to share their views and recommendations for States, the Court, international and regional organisations, and others.

 

Sierra Leone and the African Network for International Court of Justice joined the Coalition in organizing an event on, “The future of International Criminal Justice and Africa: Strengthening the role of the ICC in the African region”.

 

Sierra Leone Ambassador to the UN in New York, Michael Kanu took the opportunity to look broadly at the relationship of African States to the ICC, highlighting that the Africa group is the largest within the regional groups of ICC States Parties, while also acknowledging that more can and should be done by the Court and African states to promote universality of the Statute.

Several Coalition members, including Fanta Doumbia of the Cote D’Ivoire national Coalition for the ICC and Pricilla Aling of the Victims’ Support Initiative, underscored the need for improved outreach strategies to victims and affected communities in ICC situation countries, noting that victims should remain at the center of the Court’s work. Enas Aribi of Lawyers for Justice in Libya additionally expressed strong doubts regarding a feasible and sustainable ICC strategy regarding the protection of victims and intermediaries, particularly in the context of the long-standing investigation in Libya.

On behalf of the African Network on International Criminal Justice, Chino Obiagwu gave a briefing on the Network’s recent conference in Addis Ababa on the future of international criminal justice in Africa, during which states and civil society representatives agreed that state-to-state cooperation, strengthened national jurisdictions and empowering grassroots civil society organizations are key in ensuring justice in the African continent.

Allan Ngari of the Institute for Security Studies provided an update on the recent threats of withdrawal from the Rome Statute made by the Government of South Africa, expressing doubts that the Bill currently up for discussion in Parliament will move forward.

Similarly, Lambert Nigarura of the Burundian national Coalition for the ICC provided an update on the situation in Burundi, noting the possible escalation of violence during the upcoming 2020 elections, and the essential need for States Parties, and the international community more broadly, to not turn their backs on Burundi.

 

 

Finland, who holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, joined the Coalition  in hosting an event “European states and civil society: Strengthening the ICC and Rome Statute systems”, which benefited from the participation of the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr. Eamon Gilmore

The Coalition’s Regional Coordinator for Europe, Virginie Amato, highlighted the role that the Coalition and civil society plays in the Rome Statute system, and called on States to support civil society and human rights defenders in the fight for justice and in the defense of the Rome Statute and the ICC, in an ever-shrinking space and in an increasingly hostile environment.

The EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, whose mandate now explicitly highlights his role in contributing to the implementation of the EU policy on international criminal justice and the ICC, acknowledged the role of civil society and re-stated the EU’s strong support to the Court and International Justice, in particular political support to engage with States not yet party to the Rome Statute, but also in the context of criticism and attacks with the purpose of undermining the work of the ICC. Human Rights Defenders from across the European region spoke about the challenges they face in their work and made specific recommendations to States and the Court.

Nadia Volkova, of the Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group recalled the window of opportunity for Ukraine to ratify and implement the ICC Rome Statute, and shared updates on domestic justice efforts.

Nino Jomaridze, from the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), and chair of the Georgian national Coalition for the ICC (GCICC), spoke about the challenges faced in Georgia for the ICC investigation and perceived lack of progress, but also the current expectations and needs of victims and affected communities, who have been awaiting justice for more than 10 years.

Andreas Schüller, from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) called on European States to stand up for global order and to protect international institutions and international law, and urged States to contribute to the budget for investigations, in order to enable the Court to fulfil the work for which it was created.

During the discussion, representatives from the Georgian Ministry of Justice, other European Coalition members and States representatives, the ICC Registry, and the Head of the Secretariat of the European Network for investigation and prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes  (‘the Genocide Network’) raised issues linked to the need to support complementarity efforts at the national level- in particular recalling the EU Complementarity toolkit (“Joint Staff Working Document on advancing the principle of complementarity - Toolkit for bridging the gap between international and national justice”), domestic challenges in fighting impunity, as well as efforts to ensure cooperation with the Court and amongst States, such as the Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) initiative.

 

 

Uruguay and the Coalition organized a side-event titled, Strengthening the ICC and the Rome Statute system: perspectives from Latin America and the Caribbean”

 

In her opening remarks, Uruguay Ambassador Laura Dupuy Lasserre stressed the strong support of the region towards the ICC, and the keen interest of states in the Americas of engaging in a review process that would effectively strengthen the operation of the Court.

The Coalition’s Americas Fellow, Carmela García, underscored the vital engagement of civil society across the region, including in countries where the Court is conducting Preliminary Examinations.

Mariana Pena, of the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), spoke about the key elections to be held in 2020, including that of six new judges and a new Prosecutor, emphasizing the need to ensure the transparency, openness and independency of the election process and the ethical qualities of candidates, as well as presented OSJI’s recent report on the state of national nomination procedures and mechanisms.

Maria Elena Vignoli, from Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, spoke about the “ICC Review” process on the agenda of the ASP, noting that it should be inclusive and transparent, and addressed, in particular, the role of the Independent Group of Experts, and suggesting that its recommendations should not be mandatory, but rather provide guidance on areas for improvement, to both State Parties and the Court.

Jimena Reyes, of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) recalled the Preliminary Examinations in the region, and took note of the referral from various countries in the region of the situation in Venezuela, calling on them to pair that action with increased financial support to the work of the ICC.

Antonia Pereira de Souza, from the ICC Registry, recalled the importance of increased state cooperation, and urged states in the region to consider signing Voluntary Cooperation Agreements, as well as stressed the need to keep working towards universality of the Rome Statute in the region, in particular in the Caribbean.

Felipe Michelini, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), highlighted the importance of strengthening the Court through the participation of victims in proceedings, and underlined the need for stronger support to the TFV among States Parties, asking states from the region to step up their support to the Fund.

Following the presentations from the panellists, state representatives, ICC officials and human rights defenders from across the region had an exchange on both the contributions and main concerns affecting the region, in particular, the important contributions of the region in shaping victims’ rights and participation within the Rome Statute system. In contrast, participants touched upon some of the aspects to be improved among states in the region, including better coordination among GRULAC states, as well as tackling the language barrier at the ICC, both regarding access to information coming from the Court, as well as representation of Latin American officials and experts within the Court. In addition, civil society representatives expressed their concerns on how to make the Court more accessible to victims, and how to ensure the proper participation of victims and local organizations in the “ICC review” process.

 

 

Lastly, the Coalition also organised a discussion for civil society, states and the ICC on “Strengthening the role of the ICC in the Asia-Pacific region”.

 

The Coalition’s Program Associate, Matteo Tonella, presented the Recommendations from the 2019 CICC Asia-Pacific Regional Strategy Meeting -held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in April 2019- which offered an invaluable opportunity to discuss grounds for cooperation among civil society organizations towards the elimination of impunity in the region, focusing on the strengthening of the ICC and Rome Statute system, as well as on justice issues specific to certain countries in the region.

Civil society representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Malaysia shared their views on the challenges they face in their daily fight against impunity in the region, in particular the shrinking space for human rights defenders engaging with victims. They also shared their expectations towards the ICC and the Rome Statute system, and recommendations to further ensure that victims in the region can access judicial mechanisms like the ICC. Particular emphasis was placed on the need to mobilize and enhance political support for the Court across the region, as well as urgent efforts to further inform and counter misinformation about the ICC.  

As the Coalition’s Asia Pacific region counts 18 ICC States Parties to the Rome Statute, the meeting was an opportunity to assess the status of ratification and implementation of the Statute in the region, and welcome the recent accession by Kiribati. Despite Malaysia’s announced accession to the Rome Statute that was soon after withdrawn, members of the Malaysian national Coalition for the ICC shared their determination and plans to bolster efforts in the country to demystify the Rome Statute and ensure Malaysia joins the 122 ICC member states in the near future.

ICC ASP President, Judge O-Gon Kwon, provided brief remarks to recall the importance of the Asia-Pacific region for the future of the Court, emphasizing the role of civil society as one of the “main pillars for the ICC”.

During the discussion, representatives from the ICC Registry, Christian Mahr, and ICC Presidency, Matias Hellman, spoke about the need for increased ICC outreach efforts in Asia, the importance of cooperation with civil society, and the Court’s own efforts to promote the universality of the Rome Statute.  

The event further provided an opportunity to discuss other issues of particular relevance in Asia-Pacific, such as risks for the environment, and the need for regional bodies, such as ASEAN, to have dedicated policies and actions on international justice and the ICC.