The International Criminal Court’s governing body begins its annual session next week to discuss matters crucial to the future of international justice. But what is the Assembly of States Parties and what’s up for discussion? Here are the basics.
What is the Assembly of States Parties?
ICC member states will gather this month for the ASP to discuss and decide upon ways to make the Court and international justice more effective. The ASP is responsible for ICC laws and rules as well as management oversight. It also encourages ICC member states to increase their cooperation with the ICC and undertake cooperation and national prosecutions of grave crimes (complementarity).
Throughout the year member states attend informal consultations, known as ‘working groups,’ in The Hague and New York to discuss these issues. The consultations are divided into facilitations, each with a mandate to discuss a specific topic relevant to the Assembly’s functions, such as victims or the budget of the Court.
The outcomes of each annual ASP session differ according to the specific issues under discussion in any given year, but they usually fall under recurring general topics. At the conclusion of this year’s ASP we can expect the plenary to have adopted language in stand-alone resolutions or as part of the omnibus resolution on cooperation, complementarity and universality.
Civil society participation at the ASP
Global civil society, facilitated by us, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, will observe and monitor the meetings. Civil society will use ASP 14 as an opportunity to urge member states to strengthen various aspects of the ICC system.
Since the first ASP session the Coalition has facilitated NGO access to these negotiations with an aim to increasing global NGO participation 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.”
ASP decisions not only affect member states’ political will and cooperation, whether mandated or voluntary, but also the functioning of the Court itself. The ASP is thus a pivotal forum for the Coalition, which has promoted both state and NGO advocacy at ASP sessions for well over a decade.
What’s on this year’s agenda?
After the opening session the first major action at this year’s ASP will be elections among the member states to fill three important ICC bodies: the Board of Directors for the Trust Fund for Victims; the Committee on Budget and Finance (CBF); and the Advisory Committee for the Nomination of judges. NGOs monitor these elections to ensure they are fair, transparent and lead to the election of the most qualified candidates. The Coalition does not itself endorse or oppose individual candidates, but rather advocates for the integrity of the nominations and elections procedures. The Coalition strongly opposes reciprocal political agreements (“vote-trading”) in ICC and ASP elections.
2. General Debate
The General Debate will take place over three plenary meetings during the first two days of the ASP. It provides an opportunity for ASP participants to address issues relating to the Assembly’s work and the wider Rome Statute system of international justice.
3. Special session on complementarity
Next the ASP will tackle the issue of complementarity, or applying ICC rulings and the Rome Statute in national jurisdictions. One particular thematic discussion within complementarity this year will concentrate on efforts to improve national judicial mechanisms to address sexual and gender-based violence.
The third day of ASP 14 will focus, in part, on cooperation by member states. Topically these discussions will address the use of voluntary cooperation agreements, arrest strategies and the 66 recommendations – a list of recommendations (for improving cooperation) adopted at the ASP in 2007. With no enforcement mechanism of its own, the success of the ICC is largely dependent on the cooperation extended by states, the UN, regional organizations and others. Cooperation is an absolutely vital part of the international justice system set up by the Rome Statute and must be multi-faceted to enable the various functions of the ICC. Cooperation figures centrally in member states’ responsibility to uphold the Rome Statute system and its goal of bringing those most responsible for atrocity crimes to account.
Read more: States: Ratify ICC cooperation treaty
5. ICC 2016 budget
During ASP 14, member states will also adopt the ICC’s budget for 2016. States parties often rely upon the recommendation by the Committee on Budget and Finance (CBF) in setting the ICC’s budget and resources for the next year. The CBF is an independent expert body responsible for the technical examination of any document, submitted to the ASP, containing financial or budgetary implications. Thus, the very ability of the ICC and its organs to carry out their work, and ultimately to remain an independent and legitimate international criminal justice mechanism, can effectively turn on the CBF’s findings.
This year, the CBF recommended member states approve a budget increase of 7%. This is substantially lower than the 17.3% increase the Court had requested.
6. Amendments to the Rome Statute and ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence
As set out in Articles 51 and 121 of the Rome Statute, any state party may suggest amendments to the Rome Statute. This year the Working Group on Amendments reached consensus to send one amendment proposal to the ASP: the deletion of article 124. The article is a transitional provision which allows States to choose not to have their nationals subject to the Court’s jurisdiction over war crimes for a seven-year period following ratification.
7. The efficiency and effectiveness of Court proceedings
ASP 14 will feature a special plenary session to address ways to increase the efficiency of the criminal process. Throughout the year these issues are addressed in the Study Group on Governance and by the Working Group on Lessons Learnt.
8. The Omnibus Resolution
The Omnibus Resolution, or the “Resolution on Strengthening the International Criminal Court and the Assembly of States Parties,” addresses a wide range of substantive, practical, and policy issues in relation to the Court, the ASP, and other stakeholders. The majority of the updates to this year’s omnibus resolution come from the New York Working Group. However, other facilitations, such as The Hague Working Group, also offered language suggestions.
9. Side events
A number of events will be organized in the margins of the ASP. During breakfast meetings, lunch events or evening receptions, many topics – whether on the ASP’s agenda or related to the ICC’s work and impact more broadly – will be discussed. A large number of these events are (co-)organized by NGOs.
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