Malaysia accedes to the Rome Statute, becoming the 123rd member of the International Criminal Court

Coalition for the International Criminal Court
Malaysia paves the way for stronger representation from the Asia-Pacific region at the International Criminal Court

On 4 March 2019, Malaysia acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, becoming the 123rd State Party.

Adopted in July 1998, the Rome Statute led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court – the only permanent international judicial mechanism with the objective of investigating and prosecuting genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression – in 2002.

The instrument of accession to the treaty was signed on 4 March by Malaysia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, following a 12 December 2018 decision in favor of ratification by the Malaysian Cabinet. The agreement was deposited with the United Nations Treaty Office on 4 March and Malaysia’s accession will enter into force on 1 June 2019.

As proclaimed in the Ministry’s related press release,  Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “reflects its commitment to combating international crimes for global peace and security.” It further noted thatMalaysia stands ready to work together with all state parties in upholding the principles of truth, human rights, rule of law, fairness and accountability.”

Malaysian Member of Parliament and Minister for Human Resources Hon. Kula Segararan further affirmed that, "Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute is a clear signal that no impunity will be tolerated by Malaysia for the most serious crimes that shock the consciousness of humanity in respect of all situations on which the ICC can exercise its complementary jurisdiction. As the attacks against the undefended Rohingya population and their deportation into Bangladesh demonstrate, it is absolutely vital for States to ratify the Rome Statute in order to permit the relevant exercise of jurisdiction by the Court on the basis of the principles of territoriality and active personality: In fact, even if Myanmar refused to join the Rome Statute system against impunity, it has been sufficient for Bangladesh to be part of it to allow the initiation of an investigation by the ICC Prosecutor.”

Civil society campaign for Malaysia’s accession

The Coalition for the ICC has been advocating for Malaysia to join the Court for more than two decades.

Although the Rome Statute was adopted in 1998, Malaysia had never signed the treaty, with some government authorities strongly opposed to membership in the International Criminal Court. While some government officials began expressing their interest in ratification in early 2011, further analysis by inter-governmental agencies on a number of technical issues delayed the process for several years.

Since the adoption of the treaty, civil society has been actively urging states in the Asia-Pacific region, including Malaysia, to accede to the Rome Statute. The Coalition's Campaign for Global Justice (CGJ) has focused on Malaysia on many occasions over the past two decades. The Malaysian Bar Council, the coordinating NGO for the Malaysian national Coalition for the ICC, has also carried out a number of actions over the past years, aimed at garnering support for accession.

Mr. Andrew Khoo, Co-Chair of the Constitutional Law Committee of the Malaysian Bar Council noted that, “The Malaysian Bar warmly welcomes the accession by the Malaysian Government to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 4 March 2019.  It is an actualization of the strong affirmation of and adherence to the rule of law, both at a national and international level that the new Malaysian Government, formed in the aftermath of groundbreaking general elections held on 9 May 2018, has announced as a key pillar of policy. This accession is the culmination of many years of patient public and private advocacy by the Malaysian Bar, working together with like-minded international and national organizations.  We thank them and look forward to continued cooperation with them as we assist the Malaysian Government in the important post-accession work of implementing legislation and cooperation arrangements. We also look forward to playing an active role in supporting universality through encouraging further accessions by countries in the Southeast Asian and Asia Pacific regions.”

Ms. Usha Kulasegaran of the Malaysian national Coalition for the ICC said, "We are delighted that Malaysia has become the 124th member (now the 123rd member after Philippines withdrawal) of the International Criminal Court, and as the Malaysian national Coalition, we are all the more honored to have been part of the process that led to this, as we had worked very hard over several years to ensure that the Government's accession become a reality. And our hard work has now yielded results, in a very positive way! We will continue to work hard to maintain the momentum and successful contributions by Malaysia as the newest State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court."

More recently, in December 2018, members of the Malaysian Bar Council attended the 17th session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) and participated in a number of side events where they reaffirmed the importance of working towards the prompt accession of the Rome Statute by Malaysia. Renewed efforts by civil society were also made in the context of the Rome Statute's 20th Anniversary commemorations during 2018, including the participation of the Malaysian Bar Council at the Singapore Management University’s 20th anniversary event in October 2018. Members of the Malaysian national Coalition for the ICC have participated at further sessions of the Assembly of States Parties over the past decade.

The Malaysian Bar Council has also taken important steps in Kuala Lumpur, including organizing national dialogues on accession and meetings with key government officials, including a forum held on August 2013 with government officials and civil society, and other efforts held annually around International Justice Day. Furthermore, in July 2015, the Coalition for the ICC and CICC Steering Committee member, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), co-organized an event entitled Parliamentary South-East Asia Sub-Regional Seminar on the International Rule of Law and the Protection of Civilians in Kuala Lumpur at the Parliament of Malaysia, where members of parliament, international experts, ICC officials, and civil society representatives addressed the Malaysian accession process. Moreover, Parliamentarians for Global Action, has spearheaded efforts with Malaysian members of parliament, including through their annual Consultative Assemblies of Parliamentarians for the ICC. Lastly, the ICC has also been a strong driver in the accession process, with, for example, former ICC President Judge Sang-Hyun Song conducting an official visit to Southeast Asia in 2011, among other relevant actions by high-level ICC officials.

William Pace, Convenor of the Coalition, welcomed the move by Malaysia, reflecting that, “A major issue in the recent election of the Prime Minister of Malaysia was support for the rule of law. Indeed, the accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court represents a major commitment to the rule of law in national and international affairs. We hope Malaysia’s example will encourage other Asia-Pacific governments to commit to ending impunity for the worst crimes in international law.”

Other stakeholders also welcomed the decision by Malaysia. Ms. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission published a statement underlining that, “this new development shows the continuous support for the Court by States all over the world, and will serve as an encouragement to the remaining countries in the region to commit to ending impunity for the most serious crimes.”


Further information

Coalition for the International Criminal Court's press release: Global Coalition Welcomes Malaysia's Accession to the Rome Statute

Parliamentarians for Global Action's (PGA) press release: Parliamentarians for Global Action applauds Malaysia’s decision to join the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

PGA Backgrounder to Malaysia's accession: Backgrounder on Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute of the ICC

ASP President H.E. O-gon Kwon's statement: President of the Assembly of States Parties welcomes Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute

ICC President H.E. Chile Eboe-Osuji's statement: "We are inspired to see Malaysia join the ICC"

Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' press release: Malaysia accedes to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

Malaysian Bar Council's press release: Malaysia’s Membership of the International Criminal Court is an Opportunity to Provide Leadership

EU High Representative Ms. Federica Mogherini's statement: Statement by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini on the accession of Malaysia to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court