Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

A region crying out for justice


With three member states out of a possible 19, the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) is the most underrepresented region at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Given its turbulent political context and the occurrence of widespread abuses against civilians and others, it is vital that more countries join the Rome Statute system. Civil society in the region is working tirelessly to build awareness of the benefits for peace that ICC membership can bring.

The MENA region has seen an increase in violence since the Arab Spring. From 2011 onward, many countries in the region have seen difficult and sometimes violent political transitions and protracted conflict in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen in among others. The region is also dealing with the threat of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups, leading to the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.  

The Coalition has reiterated that justice must be part of the response to the various crises’ in the region, which has exposed the ineffectiveness of the international community to protect civilians and deter the most heinous crimes. The international effort to ensure criminal justice and put an end to impunity is of utmost importance.  

International Criminal Court situations

ICC situations in this region include an investigation in Libya, and preliminary examinations into the 2014 Gaza war between Palestine-Israel, into the 2010 Israeli-raid of a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for Gaza, and into alleged detainee abuse by United Kingdom troops in Iraq. 

As the ICC does not have jurisdiction over most of the states in the MENA region, the ICC prosecutor cannot conduct investigations or prosecutions.  

The United Nations Security Council used its power to refer of the situation in Libya, a non-ICC member state, to the Court. In 2014, Russia and China vetoed an attempt to have the situation in Syria, also a non-ICC member state, referred to the ICC.  

The ICC prosecutor has urged its member states to prosecute their own nationals suspected of committing crimes in Syria, as well as in Iraq. 

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Campaign for Global Justice

Jordan, Palestine, and Tunisia are the ICC member states in the MENA region. Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen have all signed but not ratified the Rome Statute. Israel, meanwhile, initially voted against adoption of the Rome Statute but later became a signatory, before eventually declaring no intention to ratify the ICC founding instrument. 

In 2011, Tunisia’s accession to the Rome Statute was hailed by the international community as a strong message and show of leadership in the fight against impunity in North Africa. Palestine’s accession to the Statue in 2014 followed years of civil society advocacy and hope for accountability in one of the world’s most protected conflicts.  

Some Arab countries have reportedly considered implementing legislation prior to ratification, which would enable them to prosecute crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes nationally. In 2005, the League of Arab States approved a model Arab Law on Crimes within ICC jurisdiction, to be used by Arab States for guidance. 

Jordan is one of the most active ICC member states. Jordanian Prince Zeid al-Hussein was president of the Assembly of States Parties from 2002-05, and as Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the UN played a crucial role in the establishment of the Court. Jordan has also been actively involved in the Trust Fund for Victims and has chaired conferences on the crime of aggression. 

The MENA region has maintained an active dialogue with the ICC through the attendance of observer delegations to the annual meeting of Rome Statute state parties as well as through consultations with regional organizations, such as the League of Arab States, African Union, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Non-Aligned Movement, of which all Arab States and Iran are members, has continuously called on its members to join the ICC.

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Civil society activities

More than 300 civil society organizations in the MENA region are Coalition members. Civil society organizations across the region are working to end impunity and protect the right to truth and justice for victims of atrocities. For these organizations, the Rome Statute provides model international legal standards for prosecuting grave crimes that can be drawn upon to help establish similar norms in the region. 

Currently, 12 Arab states have national coalitions for the ICC, including in in Lebanon, Jordan and Morocco, that actively work on promoting ratification of the Rome Statute, implementing its provisions into national legislation, and raising awareness about the work of the Court. The Coalition’s membership also consists of Gulf, Arab and Kurdish sub-regional coalitions for the ICC.  

The Coalition, together with local members, is working on raising public awareness about the Court through advocacy, workshops and trainings with different actors; the creation and strengthening of national and regional coalitions for the ICC across the Middle East and Africa; strengthening campaigns on the ICC; developing targeted media campaigns on the ICC; and monitoring ratification and implementation developments in governments and inter-governmental organizations.

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