The low-down: Assembly of States Parties 2016

Civil society meets with the ICC Prosecutor at Assembly of States Parties 2015. © CICC
Coalition Secretariat
In November 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) member states gathered in The Hague for the annual session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute (ASP). Over seven days, stakeholders in the international justice system discussed and decided upon the workings and future of the ICC. Coming at a time of difficulty for the ICC, up to 400 civil society delegates called for a show of unity from governments and expressions of support for victims of grave crimes at this 15th annual ASP session.

What is the Assembly of States Parties?

The ASP is the ICC’s management oversight and legislative body. It is composed of all states parties to the Rome Statute and meets at least once a year.

As the ICC’s governing body, the ASP provides the ICC with management oversight and strategic direction, elects officials, decides the budget, considers matters of non-cooperation, and can amend the Rome Statute and other rules. It is composed of all states parties to the Rome Statute and meets at least once a year.

The success of the ICC depends on the good functioning and decisions of the ASP. Civil society plays a vital role in urging the Assembly, and its individual member states, to uphold its responsibility to make international justice effective. Throughout the year and at its annual session, we urge the Assembly to improve its working methods, transparency, and state support for justice and the ICC.

Civil society also campaigns to avoid political interference with the strict judicial or prosecutorial independence of the ICC, constantly reminding the Assembly of its proper role in the Rome Statute system.  

The ASP session is a platform for all parties– the ICC, member states, and civil society– to voice opinions, concerns, and recommendations. Through both voting and discussions more generally, the Court can continue to improve its functioning and reach new heights in the fight for accountability worldwide.

The 124 ICC member states will convene for the 15th annual session at the World Forum Convention Centre in The Hague from Wednesday, 16 November to Thursday, 24 November


What’s on the agenda?

During the annual ASP session, ICC member states and civil society discuss and decide upon ways to make the Court and international justice more effective.

Throughout the year ICC member states attend informal consultations, known as “working groups,” in The Hague and New York, largely to address matters selected during the previous annual session.

These consultations, between states and Court officials and open to civil society, are divided into facilitations, each tasked to discuss a specific topic relevant to the ASP’s work. 

ICC member states will distill their discussions and initiatives from throughout the year into new relevant measures to make the Court and international justice more effective.

At the 15th ASP session, states discussed – and took steps to improve – a number of activities and issues, including:

  • Work of the ASP and the Court as a whole;
  • Cooperation from ICC member states;
  • Proposals and recommendations on the 2017 ICC budget, which ICC member states set;
  • Implementation of the Rome Statute into domestic laws (complementarity);
  • Efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal process at the ICC;
  • Work of the Advisory Committee on Nominations ahead of 2017 judicial elections; and
  • The administration of the Court;
  • A dedicated pledging ceremony on the ratification of the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities (APIC) will also be organized, to encourage states to pledge to ratify the treaty ahead of the Court's 20th anniversary in 2018.


Who will be present?

The ASP is composed of all ICC member states, or states that have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute. According to the Statute, “Each State Party shall have one representative in the Assembly who may be accompanied by alternates and advisers.”

Although the Rome Statute requests the ASP to attempt to reach decisions by consensus, a vote sometimes proves necessary, with all votes requiring a two-thirds majority for approval. Votes during ASP touch on a broad range of issues on the official agenda and occur during official plenary meetings. Each ICC member state has one vote.

The Rome Statute further sets out that states which have signed the Rome Statute but have yet to take the official ratification or accession step can be present and participate in meetings of the ASP as non-voting “observer states.” The United States, Israel, China, and others are observers that have attended ASP sessions in this capacity.

Civil society, including non-governmental organizations, under the umbrella of our Coalition for the ICC is also accreditated to participate at ASP sessions.

According to the rules, NGOs invited to the ASP session should have access to copies of official documents and meetings of both the ASP and its subsidiary bodies, and in some cases, have the right to make oral statements at the opening and closing of such meetings.

After the official ASP opening, the adoption of the agenda, keynote addresses, and any other special announcement, the ASP holds its general debate – the first chance for civil society to address all states present at the ASP session.

This segment provides an opportunity for all ASP participants, including civil society, to raise issues relating to the Assembly’s work, their own work, and the wider Rome Statute system of international justice.

The general debate is set to take place on Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24 November.

Apart from the plenary sessions, a number of events will be organized in the margins of the ASP session. Many topics on the ASP agenda, as well as others related to the work and broader impact of the ICC, will be discussed between NGOs, states, and Court officials during breakfast meetings, lunch breaks, or evening events. Civil society, including the Coalition, (co-)organizes a large number of these side events during the ASP session.


Coalition facilitates civil society participation

The Coalition will represent global civil society during the ASP session, where it will observe and monitor most of the discussions set to take place. Civil society will take advantage of the opportunity at the 15th ASP session to urge ICC member states to strengthen various aspects of the ICC system. Civil society plays a vital role in ensuring that the Assembly – and each individual member state – takes ownership of its responsibility to make international justice effective.

ASP decisions not only affect ICC member states’ political will and cooperation, but also the functioning of the Court itself. The ASP thus acts as a pivotal forum for the Coalition, which has promoted both state and civil society advocacy at the ASP sessions from the very beginning..

Since the first ASP session, the Coalition has facilitated unprecedented access to these negotiations for civil society groups from across the globe, ensuring a diverse representation of civil society voices and input in the ICC process. During the 2003 ASP, member states recognized, by consensus, the “coordinating and facilitating role of the Coalition for the ICC.”


ICC and Africa

The intended withdrawals of three African states (Burundi, The Gambia, and South Africa) from the ICC has been a disappointing development for the ICC in 2016, and this issue is expected to figure prominently during this annual ASP session.

The issue of head-of-state immunity is at the center of the withdrawal moves. It is more important than ever that the ASP session be used to give voice to victims searching for justice worldwide.

Civil society has been calling for victim perspectives and opinions to be prioritized above all else during the ASP session, as well as in the fight for global justice more generally.

A growing number of African governments have spoken out against the recent decisions of Burundi, The Gambia, and South Africa. Civil society encourages all governments to reconsider this course of action and to stay in the system in order to achieve truly global international justice.

It takes a year for the decision to withdraw from the ICC to take effect, meaning the three African states that announced their withdrawal will still have a seat, and a vote, during the ASP session.

Civil society encourages all parties to engage with the ASP in open and frank discussion, without compromising the ICC prohibition on immunity for heads of states and high government officials.

Throughout the 15th ASP session, civil society will defend the integrity of the Rome Statute and the unique access to justice it gives victims of atrocity crimes, reminding states that these will be the ultimate losers in any withdrawal.

ASP 2016 webpage

Read more on the ASP

Read more on the Annual Assembly

Read more on civil society and the Rome Statute system


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