ASP Session kicks off, states take the floor in the General Debate

Assembly of States Parties 2021 

6 December 2021

First Plenary Meeting: Opening, Reports and Elections  

On 6 December 2021, the 20th session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) began, with limited in-person participation at the World Forum in The Hague, The Netherlands, and broader attendance via live web streaming.  

Despite the limitations posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the ASP is set to tackle an ambitious agenda, including the election of the next Deputy Prosecutor(s), adoption of a budget to accommodate a growing workload under a new Prosecutor, the assessment and continuation of the ongoing review of the Court and Rome Statute System.  

Opening Session 

The session was opened by ASP President Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, who reported on the activities of the Bureau in 2021. 

The ASP President recalled that the Bureau launched an exercise to draw lessons from the process to elect the third ICC Prosecutor, for which H.E. Alexander Marschik (Austria) and H.E. Ksenija Milenković (Serbia) have been appointed as focal points. In line with this exercise, the previous ASP Presidency, and the Committee on the Election of the Prosecutor (CEP) and committee of experts assisting it have produced reports on their respective engagements. 

President Fernández also indicated the Review of the ICC and Rome Statute System, the need to increase support for the Court and the universal ratification of the Rome Statute, and the attention to victims’ issues and the TFV as priorities for the Assembly. 

Report on the activities of the Court 

ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmański opened his remarks by proclaiming, “If I had to summarize in one sentence what I want to say today, it would be this: ‘the ICC is on a good path’”.  

He further noted that while next year could be the ICC’s busiest judicial year and with more situations than ever, the Court has survived one of the most challenging periods of existential threats against it since its creation.  

President Hofmański indicated the Review of the ICC and Rome Statute system are among his main priorities, in an effort to enhance the Court’s delivery of justice in every way possible.  

The President also stated that improving upon workplace culture and guaranteeing a safe and fulfilling working environment for everyone at the Court remains one of the highest priorities for the Court’s management.  

Moreover, President Hofmański urged the Assembly to give the utmost consideration to Recommendation 169 of the Independent Expert Review (IER) report in order to be better prepared against any possible future threats against the ICC. The ICC President also referred to another recommendation of the IER report, Recommendation 363, on the need for long-term strategic vision for the ICC. 

Full Statement available here.  

Report of the ICC Prosecutor

In his first ASP session as ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan commented on the recent decisions to close the preliminary examination of the ICC in Colombia, in view of the national efforts undertaken to prosecute international crimes within the ongoing peace process, and to open an investigation in the situation in Venezuela, based on a cooperation agreement with the national authorities.  

Going forward, the Prosecutor announced that he will strive to announce decisions on certain Preliminary Examinations before the end of the year, and come to determinations on other outstanding matters by end of next. He also referenced his recent address to the UN Security Council on Libya, and declared that he will prioritize situations referred by the Council. He noted that while new Preliminary Examinations will be opened, as well as investigations and referrals, his office will strive to ensure they do not take longer than required.  

With reference to the working methods and work environment in the OTP, the ICC prosecutor declared his steadfast willingness to improve the work culture, and will take the steps necessary in that direction which include the creation of a workplace panel receiving complaints. Finally, the ICC Prosecutor called on States Parties to abide by the budget request of the Court, to allow for an effective discharge of its mandate. 

Report of the Board of Directors of the Trust Fund for Victims

Speaking on behalf of the Trust Fund for Victims for the final time, Chair of the Board of Directors, Mama Koité Doumbia, provide an update on the activities of the Trust Fund and its Board of Directors in 2020 and 2021.  

Ms. Doumbia provided an updated on the ongoing reparations by the Trust Fund, in the Lubanga, Katanga and Al Mahdi cases, and on the development of assistance programs in Côte d’Ivoire, Central African Republic, Kenya, Georgia and Mali. Ms. Doumbia recalled the important partnership with civil society in carrying out the TFV work, and expressed her appreciation for the work carried out by the TFV Board towards the improveme nt of TFV procedures and working methods. 

Her statement can be found here, and the report of the Board of Directors of the Trust Fund for Victims here.  

Appointment of the Credentials Committee & States in Arrears

Moving along, the members of the Credentials Committee were appointed: Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Mexico, Romania, El Salvador, Switzerland and Senegal, with the final member to be named at a later date.  

The ASP President then recalled the ASP rules governing the voting system, which prevent states in arrears to vote. Based on the current challenging conditions, the Bureau recommended that all states requesting an exception to the rule are granted the right to vote, and invited them to present an official request. The nine States Parties in arrears at the time of the opening plenary were: Antigua, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Suriname, Venezuela and Zambia.  

Review of the ICC and Rome Statute System

The States Parties forming the ICC Review Mechanism, The Netherlands and Sierra Leone, provided an update on the work of the ICC Review Mechanism in 2021, focusing in particular on the efforts to categorize the Independent Experts’ recommendations and the development of a Comprehensive Plan of Action for their assessment, developed by the Mechanism and endorsed by the ASP Bureau. The ICC Review Mechanism also provided an overview of the ongoing discussions on the draft ICC Review resolution text, which will continue in the margins of the ASP before being presented  for adoption later in the week.  


On the election of Bureau Members, President Fernández recalled the seat-sharing arrangements agreed upon among states of the Asia-Pacific Group and the Western European and Others group earlier in the year. Based on the agreement for the Asia-Pacific Group, Bangladesh was elected for 2023, and Japan and the Republic of Korea were elected for 2022 - 23. Based on the agreement for the Western European and Others Group, Germany was elected for 2022 - 23 (starting from 13 February 2022) 

On the election of members of the Board of Directors of the Trust Fund for Victims, the following five candidates were elected  by acclamation as members of the Board: Sheikh Mohammed Belal (Bangladesh); Mr. Kevin Kelly (Ireland); Mr. Andres Parmas (Estonia); Ms. Minerva Josefina Tarávez Mirabal (Dominican Republic) and Mr. Ibrahim Sorie Yillah (Sierra Leone). Mr. Kelly and Mr. Yillah were elected for the first time, while the other members were re-elected for second terms. The three-year terms of the members of the TFV Board will commence on 7 December 2021.   

On the election of members of the Advisory Committee on Nominations, it was determined that more time would be needed for consultations, and thus the elections were postponed for another plenary session later in the week.  

General Debate Day 1 

The General Debate commenced in the afternoon session, during which States Parties have the opportunity to 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 States Parties to deliver statements in-person in The Hague or via pre-recorded video statement.  Additional statements, including statements by non-governmental organizations and international organizations, will also be delivered during Day 2. 

Twenty-six states parties spoke during the first part of the General Debate, including Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Andorra, Luxembourg, Finland, State of Palestine, Sierra Leone, Liechtenstein, France, United Kingdom, Sweden, Cyprus, The Netherlands, Bolivia, Estonia, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Norway, Uganda, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Australia and Bangladesh (in order of delivery).  

Once available, statements will be accessible on the ASP website here

Key topics during the General Debate included the Independent Expert Review, the ongoing need to elect the most highly qualified officials in merit-based elections including the upcoming elections of the Deputy-Prosecutor(s), political support to the Court, the need for effective cooperation, the budget, universality 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 welcomed the participation of civil society as key stakeholders in the Review process. Several states further recalled the role of civil society and human rights defenders in the pursuit of the Court's mandate, and the need to condemn any threats made against them in their work. 

Nearly all States referenced the need for universal ratification of the Rome Statute as a means towards making the system of international justice more effective. Many called on States not parties to the Statute to ratify it. 

With respect to the upcoming elections of the Deputy-Prosecutor(s) and ongoing follow-up processes from last year’s Prosecutor election, many States highlighted the need to elect the most highly qualified individuals, with several going on to expressly indicate the need for such individuals to also possess high moral character, to lead the Court through transparent and merit-based processes. Several states went on to call for the establishment of a permanent vetting mechanism in this aim.   

Many States also welcomed the withdrawal of sanctions by the U.S. and underscored the need for continued political support for the Court and its independence and integrity. 

In the context of support for the Court, a number of States referred to the need for better cooperation with the Court and challenges faced by the Court in executing arrest warrants. Slovenia and The Netherlands further called on States to enter into voluntary cooperation agreements with the Court. Additionally, some States raised the issue of resources, noting the need for the Court to have sufficient resources in order to address its growing workload. Additionally, there were several mentions of the ongoing liquidity crisis, and calls to 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.  

The General Debate will continue in the morning of Tuesday 7 December. 

Other meetings and side-events

Following the conclusion of the session, informal consultations were held to discuss the paragraphs which remain open in the draft resolution on the review of the ICC and Rome Statute System. The draft text will be circulated by the Review Mechanism under silence procedure with an aim to have a finalized draft by the time of the dedicated plenary session on Review, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.  

Monday also saw two side-events, Survivors’ pathways to accountability: legal avenues for South Sudanese survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, co-hosted by the Netherlands and Legal Action Worldwide, and Climate Crime at the International Criminal Court, hosted by Vanuatu. 

Other Resources

Visit our webpage on the Assembly of States Parties 2021 to read previous ASP20 daily summaries, recommendations from civil society and other ASP20 resources. Check out the following links regularly for updates:   

Twitter @ngos4justice   

Coalition letter to ICC States Parties on ASP20   

Schedule of NGO side-events   

CICC Elections Team Paper on a Permanent Vetting Mechanism