ICC member states meeting next week must make international justice more effective by enhancing cooperation with the Court and putting in place strong mechanisms for compliance with its decisions, the Coalition for the ICC said today.
The 13th annual session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP)—the ICC’s governing body current membership of 122—takes place at UN Headquarters in New York from 8-17 December. Global civil society attending the Assembly will be urging governments to strengthen many aspects of the ICC system.
A timely debate on improving cooperation with the Court and its decisions is set to take place. The ICC prosecutor today withdrew the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for lack of evidence after judges had rejected a request for indefinite adjournment earlier this week. The judges also stated that the Kenyan government’s non-compliance with requests for cooperation compromised the prosecution’s ability to thoroughly investigate the charges against Kenyatta. However, they declined to refer the matter the ASP. The prosecutor can appeal this decision, and can again bring charges against Kenyatta if new evidence comes to light.
“For the Rome Statute system to overcome major challenges, the highest level political support by states parties must be demonstrably increased. It has become clear after the ICC’s first 12 years that the ASP needs to comprehensively review and address cooperation issues such as arrest strategies, victim and witness protection and non-essential contact with indicted senior government officials. We see a lack of state cooperation curtailing the Court’s effectiveness in many of its investigations and prosecutions, as indicated most recently by the judges in the Kenyatta case,” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC. “While there has been important leadership in the Assembly on this matter, stronger mechanisms are now needed, including procedures to deal with governments that are failing to live up to their obligations as states parties to the Statute.”
Lubanga conviction confirmed
The ICC’s first landmark trial concluded in The Hague this week with the Appeals Chamber confirming the conviction and and 14-year sentence against Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga. In 2012, Lubanga was found responsible for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children under 15 and using them in an armed conflict in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2002/3.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said that the decision sends a clear message that those who conscript and use child soldiers will be held accountable.
Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice (Women’s Initiatives) welcomed the Appeals Chamber’s decision as a milestone, but noted that the prosecutor failed to include sexual and gender-based violence charges in the case. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said the ruling reaffirmed the importance of prosecuting those who use child soldiers, but expressed regret that the judges did not allow evidence of sexual violence to be used in determining Lubanga’s sentence (in French). REDRESS also welcomed the decision, but cautioned that lessons need to be learned by prosecutors in order to avoid evidentiary weaknesses in future cases. No Peace Without Justice hailed the verdict’s confirmation as an important step towards recognition of children’s rights. Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told the Associated Press that the decision brings some measure of justice to child soldiers in the DRC.
Legal historian and researcher Thijs B. Bouwknegt argued that the dissent in the Thomas Lubanga appeal decision leaves a stain on the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard.
The Star (Kenya) reported that the Coalition—including its Kenyan members—will fight against the Kenyan government’s ASP agenda to discuss the conduct of the ICC and its prosecutors. REDRESSurged states to reinforce the way non-cooperation is addressed at ASP 13 after judges failed to refer Kenya’s non-cooperation with the Court to the Assembly.
Central African Republic
Brigid Inder of the Women’s Initiatives told Al Jazeera that Jean-Pierre Bemba’s trial should usher in a new era of accountability for sexual and gender-based crimes before the ICC.
France began pulling its troops out of the CAR as the UN’s peacekeeping force nears full deployment. The anti-balaka militia said that it would lay down its arms and become a political party. Seleka rebel fighters attacked government officials in northern CAR, according to a government spokesperson.
After judges rejected the prosecution’s request for an adjournment in the Uhuru Kenyatta case and ordered prosecutors to bring the case to trial or withdraw the charges, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda withdrew the charges against the Kenyan president, but noted that she could bring a new case if new evidence becomes available. In response, Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice urged the ICC to keep the investigation of Kenya’s post-election violence open and expressed concern at Kenya’s obstruction of the ICC process.
The judges also decided not to refer Kenya to the ASP for non-cooperation, although they found that Kenya had not met the standard of cooperation required by the Rome Statute. In a statement, Bensouda said that the Kenyan government’s lack of cooperation undermined her ability to investigate and has frustrated the course of justice for victims.
ICC judges excused Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto from attending trial proceedings to attend to security matters in Kenya following an attack by Al-Shabaab militants that left at least 36 dead. A witness told judges that, prior to a 2005 constitutional referendum, Ruto told Kalenjins in Burnt Forest, Kenya to prepare to evict Kikuyus from the area. A witness also testified that broadcast Joshua Sang used his radio show during the 2007/8 post-election violence to tell villagers to erect road blocks and to warn Kalenjin youth to retreat in order to avoid the police. The witness also testified that Sang incited violence on his radio show during the post-election violence.
The Kenyan government is consulting on the creation of an international crimes division, but denied that it was an attempt to phase out the ICC.
The former spokesperson for UNAMID urged the ICC prosecutor to press the UN Security Council for an independent investigation of the alleged cover-up of attacks on civilians and peacekeepers in Darfur. Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir said that UNAMID has become a security concern and should leave Sudan. After a meeting between the Russian foreign minister and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, Russia declared its support for Sudan’s demand that the peacekeeping force should go. The UN peacekeeping chief warned the Security Council of ongoing insecurity and violence in Darfur.
Sudan’s political and armed opposition groups signed a declaration calling for an end to the country’s conflicts and the achievement of peace and a democratic transition. A local official said that around 17,000 displaced persons in South Darfur are facing dire humanitarian conditions.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In an openDemocracy op-ed, Pascal Kambale of the Open Society Foundations argued that the ICC has pursued only the ‘small fish’ in the DRC. The DRC will begin repatriating former M23 rebels from neighboring countries.
Ugandan members of parliament and civil society appealed to the government to quickly formulate a transitional justice policy to address past human rights violations in northern Uganda.
HRW warned that extremists in Derna, Libya are terrorizing residents with atrocities. ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told Al Arabiya that war crimes are likely being committed in Libya, but insecurity and limited access to information is hindering her office’s investigation. Medical staff in Libya said that over 400 people have been killed in the past six weeks in fighting between militias in Benghazi. US officials say that ISIS is setting up training camps in Libya.
The ICC prosecutor issued her annual report on preliminary examinations.
In an open letter, FIDH called on the new Afghan government and the international community to make human rights a top priority. Amnesty International and HRW each urged Afghanistan’s foreign donors to push the government to make progress on human rights. The prosecutor’s report for the first time named US forces as potentially responsible for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. Law professor and blogger Ryan Vogel argued that the ICC is making a mistake by pursuing allegations of US crimes in Afghanistan. Kevin Jon Heller criticized Vogel’s legal analysis, but agreed that an investigation of alleged US actions would severely damage the US-ICC relationship.
In its report on preliminary examinations, the ICC said that it will monitor Colombia’s peace talks to make sure genuine proceedings against those responsible for grave crimes are carried out. The Colombian government and the FARC agreed to resume peace talks after they were suspended last month.
Russia said that its new treaty with Abkhazia won’t affect the Geneva talks with Georgia.
HRW recommended that Ukraine ask the ICC to investigate the military conflicts in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Campaign for Global Justice
In a MEMO op-ed, international lawyer Tony Cadman argued that accountability is an essential part of the peace process and that Palestine should join the ICC.
What else is happening?
In an op-ed, HRW’s Phil Robertson and Daniel Bekele suggested that a number of African countries may have voted against a UN resolution recommending an ICC referral for North Korea because of frustration with the Court.
openDemocracy columnists argued that the failure to obtain justice in Syria shows that the ICC needs to be empowered to act with universal jurisdiction under some circumstances.
The ICC prosecutor said that Morocco is on the right track regarding its human rights record.
An Israeli group asked the ICC to investigate war crimes allegedly committed by the Palestinian government.
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