In face of a global pandemic, ASP19 commences with States expressing strong support for independent court, standing firm against attacks 

14 DECEMBER 2020

"To my successor [...] I would like to stress that assuming office as Prosecutor means an unyielding devotion to the pursuit of international criminal justice, without fear or favour, even in the face of adversity."

Ms. Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor

First Plenary Meeting

On 14 December 2020, the 19th session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) began in a hybrid format, with limited participation in-person at the World Forum in The Hague, The Netherlands, and broader participation taking place via virtual platforms. 

Despite the limitations posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the ASP is set to take major decisions on a number of key topics, including the election of judges and the Prosecutor, follow up on the Independent Expert Review, and challenges related to political support and cooperation with the ICC.

Opening Session

The session opening include a keynote address by Minister of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, Stef Blok, who condemned the sanctions placed on the Court by the United States government, but noted that while the system of international justice faces unprecedented pressure, progress is still being made. He also welcomed the Independent Expert Review (IER) in providing a clear path forward   to improve the fight against impunity.

ASP President O-Gon Kwon addressed the session for the final time in his capacity as President of the ASP. He spoke briefly to reflect on his time as ASP President, which had its challenges, but also included important decisions related to the future of the Court, including elections and the IER. Court President Chile Eboe-Osuji additionally addressed the plenary for the last time as his mandate expires in March 2021, speaking briefly via a pre-recorded statement to indicate that while there were areas of achievement during his mandate, there were also areas in which more work must be done.

Also nearing the end of her mandate, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda underscored that despite the many challenges posed by 2020, this year was a very active one for the Court, with developments in a number of ongoing situations, and several preliminary examinations concluding or nearing finalization. She took the opportunity to address her successor, and highlighted the ongoing challenge of insufficient resources for the ever-growing demands placed on the Office of the Prosecutor. Bensouda made reference to the sanctions placed on her and her Office, and welcomed the support received from States Parties and others in the face of these attacks. 

In his statementICC Registrar Peter Lewis pointed to the flexible and innovative ways in which the Court continued on its work in 2020, despite the challenges linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. He addressed the serious issue of growing arrears, and related liquidity concerns, which would pose severe limitations on the Court’s ability to continue its day-to-day functions. Lewis further took note of recommendations made in the IER report, particularly ensuring a safe and secure workplace for all, for which his office will begin recruiting a Focal Point for Gender, among other tools for change. 

Speaking on behalf of the Trust Fund for Victims, Chair of the Board of Directors, Mama Koité Doumbia expressed her condolences once again for the death of former Board Chair, Felipe Michelini, and spoke to his lasting legacy as a lifelong human rights defender and strong supporter of the ICC since its creation. Doumbia also addressed the work of the TFV in 2020, which shifted from mainly preparation and planning to intensive implementation and evaluation.  The work of the Fund also shifted to include seven affected countries, an unprecedented number.

General Debate

Day One of ASP19 continued with the General Debate, in which states parties address the wider plenary to raise key issues related to the Rome Statute system. Taking into account the restrictions placed on the session, this year’s format allowed for only certain states parties represented at the highest levels to deliver statements in The Hague, or via pre-recorded video statements.  Additional statements, including statements by non-governmental organizations, will be published on the ASP website.

Twenty-seven states parties, including Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Spain, the State of Palestine, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Kingdom delivered remarks in the course of the Debate. Albania, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Gambia, Honduras, Ireland, Japan, Malta, Poland, Romania and Timor Leste submitted written statements that were then published on the ASP website.

Key topics during the General Debate included the Independent Expert Review, the upcoming elections of the Prosecutor and six judges, political support to the Court, the threats faced by the ICC, the need for cooperation, the budget, and contributions to the Trust Fund of Victims. At the outset, all States commended the ICC’s work despite the difficult circumstances of the pandemic.

States universally welcomed the report of the Independent Expert Review as an essential step in reinforcing the ICC’s capacity to implement its mandate independently and effectively. States were focused on next steps and the need to implement the IER’s recommendations. In particular, many States noted the importance of having a mechanism to implement these recommendations that is transparent and inclusive.  Several States underscored that any mechanism should respect the judicial and prosecutorial independence of the Court.

With respect to the upcoming elections of the Prosecutor and six judges, nearly all States mentioned the need to elect the most highly qualified individuals (with several referring expressly to the need for such individuals to possess high moral character) to lead the Court through a transparent and merit-based process. Some States took the opportunity to mention the qualifications of their judicial nominees. Several States mentioned the improvements in the election process this year through the work of the Advisory Committee on the Nomination of Judges and the Committee on the Election of the Prosecutor. Several States encouraged that the election of the Prosecutor be reached in a consensual manner. Switzerland mentioned the need to improve national nomination procedures. 

States underscored the need for States Parties to robustly stand in support of the ICC as a defense to the external challenges which threaten its very existence and its independence. Several States, including France, the State of Palestine, and Switzerland expressly condemned U.S. sanctions, and called upon the Biden administration to withdraw them. 

A number of States referred to the need for better cooperation with the Court and challenges faced by the Court in executing arrest warrants. In particular, Luxembourg made note of the Prosecutor’s historic visit to Khartoum in the past year.

In the context of support for the Court, several States encouraged all States Parties (including States in arrears) to pay their financial contributions to the Court in a timely manner.

Finally, several States referred to the need to place victims at the center of the ICC process and to enable the payment of reparations and some states committed to making voluntary contributions to the Trust Fund for Victims


"We urge you to support, defend and protect human rights defenders and their work in service of the world’s most vulnerable people in 2021 and the years to come."
Ms Melinda Reed, CICC Acting Convenor.

The CICC and its members have contributed with video recorded and written statements this year, listen to and read this year’s concerns and recommendations:

Other Civil society voices at ASP 19: Check out the statements here!

The Coalition for the ICC has prepared a variety of resources to make this session of the ASP accessible to a wide audience. Check out the following links regularly for updates:


NGO Side-events

Resources on elections

NGO Recommendations 

CICC Letter to ICC States Parties