Earlier this month, Belgium became the first ICC member state to agree to temporarily host detainees on interim release from the Court—an example that others urgently need to follow.
The agreement, according to the ICC,“regulates the procedure for the interim release of an ICC detainee and in particular formalizes the necessary consultations with the Court’s Registry with the Belgian authorities, the latter examining the Court’s requests on a case-by-case basis.”
Said Coalition Convenor William Pace:
“We welcome Belgium’s decision to temporarily host ICC detainees as an important first step towards improving much-needed cooperation with the Court. We strongly urge others to assist with burden-sharing as the fairness—both real and perceived—of the ICC and Rome Statute system is at stake.”
The Coalition has long been calling on states parties to conclude agreements for receiving detainees after their interim release or conviction, as well as for the relocation of victims, witnesses and acquitted individuals.
One of the key ways in which states parties can demonstrate their support to the Court in a tangible way is through the signing of such voluntary agreements.
Cooperation is firmly the domain of states parties, requiring their utmost attention.
Cooperation in the form of arrests is mandatory under the Rome Statute. However, other forms of voluntary cooperation—such as witness relocation or release agreements—rely on states parties undertaking to assist when the need arises.
Yet, this type of cooperation should not be understood as being of lesser importance to the Court’s functioning.
Voluntary cooperation is part of a broader obligation of states parties under the Rome Statute. It is crucial to the Court’s efficient and effective functioning, particularly as the Court continues to grow and is presented with new legal obligations and growing logistical challenges.
Cases highlight urgent need for cooperation
The situation of alleged Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui highlights in the importance of concluding such agreements.
Following his acquittal in late 2012, he indicated that it would be unsafe for him to return to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and absent a voluntary release agreement for acquitted persons, Ngudjolo Chui had to make an asylum application in the Netherlands.
Other cases at the ICC have also demonstrated the need for voluntary agreements to be signed.
Many defendants make applications for interim release during the course of their trial. Allegations of witness intimidation have highlighted the need for states to agree to relocate witnesses to ensure that this does not negatively affect the ICC’s cases.
Agreements voluntary, but necessary
The ICC’s continuing growth needs to be matched by the political will and practical support of states parties, including through concluding cooperation agreements.
While such agreements may voluntary, they are necessary for the Court’s future.
Belgium’s commendable example should now be followed by others.