As 2015 comes to a close, we take a look back at what has been an eventful year in the fight for justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide around the world. Thank you for all your continuing support – stay with us next year, we’re getting there.
The Coalition for the ICC turns 20
Twenty years ago, in response to rampant impunity the world over, a small group of human rights organizations began campaigning for a permanent international criminal court to hold individuals to account for grave crimes. Our civil society Coalition now stands at over 2,500 members in 150 countries, working in partnership for justice for victims of grave crimes through national courts and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In celebration of this 20th anniversary year, we launched a blog series entitled When hope and history rhyme to reflect on the many lessons learned to date, as well as on the challenges that we continue to face in establishing a system of justice that is truly global. We will be welcoming submissions throughout 2016.
Our 20th anniversary reception had the honor of being the first event to take place at the ICC’s new permanent premises in November, a reflection of the key role civil society plays in ensuring a fair, effective and independent Court.
ICC moves to a new, permanent home
At the end of 2015, the ICC made its long-awaited move to its new and permanent premises in The Hague, the Netherlands this month. Here are five facts about the building.
ICC independence under threat at annual assembly
A political campaign at the 14th annual session of the ICC’s governing body, the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, to influence the ongoing trial of Kenya’s deputy president sets a dangerous precedent for the Court’s independence.
The assembly also agreed the ICC’s 2016 budget and discussed cooperation between states and the ICC, the efficiency and effectiveness of ICC proceedings, strengthening ICC field presence, and national prosecutions, including those of sexual and gender based crimes.
ICC courtrooms heating up
Two new trials opened in 2015. Wanted by the ICC since 2006, Congolese militia leader Bosco Ntaganda is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including using child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery allegedly committed in 2002 and 2003. The trial continues into 2016.
The trial of five men accused of bribing witnesses in the trial of Congolese politician and militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba also opened in The Hague this year. Bemba stands accused along with four associates, including members of his former defense team and a Congolese MP, in the first such case to come before the Court. The original Bemba trial concluded in 2015, with a verdict expected in 2016.
Two suspects were transferred to The Hague: Ugandan rebel commander Dominic Ongwen, suspected of directing war crimes and crimes against humanity as part of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army; and Tuareg rebel leader Ahmad al Faqi al Mahdi, suspected of crimes against UNESCO protected buildings in Mali’s Timbuktu. Hearings to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to send both cases to trial will take place in 2016.
Meanwhile, Congolese militia leader Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui was deported to the DRC in February 2015 after a Dutch court rejected his second asylum request following his acquittal at the ICC of charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. His one-time co-accused, Germain Katanga will be freed from ICC custody in January 2015 on early release having served two-thirds of his sentence.
The trial of Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto and Joshua Sang continued throughout 2015 with the presentation of the prosecution case. Witness issues continued to hamper proceedings.
Finally, in early 2016, the postponed trial of former Cote D’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo and political ally Charles Ble Goude will open at the ICC.
ICC fugitive al-Bashir flees South Africa
In June 2015, ICC fugitive Omar al-Bashir fled South Africa after a local civil society group, the South African Litigation Center, filed a motion in Pretoria’s high court to compel the execution of two ICC arrest warrants for the Sudanese president, demonstrating that it is no longer business as usual for fugitives from international justice. As an ICC member state, South Africa is obliged to arrest ICC fugitives on its territory.
Congolese victims in line for reparations
Victims of grave crimes by convicted militia leader Thomas Lubanga in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are in line to receive reparations following key judicial developments in 2015. The ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims submitted its first reparation plan for victims involved in the ICC’s landmark first trial. The ICC is the first international tribunal to provide reparations to victims, a key restorative feature of the Rome Statute, the Court’s founding treaty. A generous donation to the Trust Fund was made by France in December 2015.
Key developments in Ukraine, Georgia and Palestine
In September 2015, Ukraine submitted a declaration accepting ICC jurisdiction from 20 February 2014 onwards. Article 12.3 of the Rome Statute allows for non-ICC member states to accept the Court’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis. This followed a first declaration in April 2014 accepting ICC jurisdiction between November 2013 and February 2014, a period coinciding with the EuroMaidan protests in Kiev.
Similarly, Palestine submitted an article 12.3 declaration to the ICC granting the Court jurisdiction back to 13 June 2014. The ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) subsequently opened a preliminary examination to determine whether alleged crimes by all parties “in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014 amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.”
Stalled domestic proceedings into alleged grave crimes prompted the ICC prosecutor to request judges’ authorization to open investigation into the August 2008 armed conflict in Georgia, involving Russia, over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. A decision is pending.
Meanwhile, the ICC prosecutor decided not to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity in Honduras, saying the situation is not within its jurisdiction.
Africa advances accountability
Taking place before a special court created by Senegal and the AU, the landmark trial of Chad’s former leader Hissène Habré began in Dakar to widespread approval in 2015. Habré is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed during his eight year rule in the 1980s. The push to try Habré was driven by the surviving victims of the regime, with over 4,000 participating as civil parties in the case.
The Central African Republic made history by becoming the first country to create a hybrid court for grave crimes through national legislation. The new special criminal court will work with existing justice mechanisms and the ICC. It plans to cover cases that would not necessarily have reached the ICC’s threshold, permitting a greater number of victims to access justice.
The National Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Congo finally passed a bill incorporating the RS into domestic law, allowing Congolese courts to prosecute grave crimes. The law will also strengthen cooperation with the ICC. International and local civil society, through the DRC National Coalition for the ICC, has been working to advance the legislation since 2008.
Still no justice for Syria
With an effort to refer Syria to the ICC prosecutor scuttled by vetoes in 2014, a UN commission of inquiry called for more to be done to investigate and prosecute alleged atrocities in the now four-year-old conflict.
Atrocities committed with impunity have had an untold human impact in Syria, set its development back almost four decades, and fuelled the biggest refugee exodus since the Second World War. Justice must be part of the response to the crisis that has so exposed the ineffectiveness of the international community to protect civilians and deter the most heinous crimes.
The ICC now has 123 member states
Following years of civil society advocacy, Palestine became the ICC’s 123rd member state with the entry into force of its accession in April 2015. In November 2015, El Salvador’s parliament voted to accede to the Rome Statute. Jamaica committed to joining the ICC during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council. And the Democratic Republic of Congo adopted a bill incorporating the Rome Statute into domestic law, again following years of effort by civil society.
Indonesia, Nepal, Ukraine, Malaysia, Armenia, Benin, Ghana, Sri Lanka, and Togo were among the focus countries for our Campaign for Global Justice in 2014-15, carried out in close consultation with local civil society.
In June 2015, we called on Benin to pass a domestic ICC law as civil society from across Africa gathered in the capital Cotonou for our regional strategy meeting. In September 2015, the campaign focused on Sri Lanka as the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on alleged atrocities during the country’s civil war. The Armenia campaign kicked off on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide on 24 April and lasted through the entire month of May. Meanwhile, political momentum is building in Togo to pass a long-awaited ICC bill pending before parliament following a Coalition mission to Lomé in September.
We also launched a campaign that will continue into 2016 calling on states to ratify the Agreement of Privileges and Immunities of the ICC, which allows ICC officials and staff to conduct their work safely and independently.
Crime of Aggression moves closer to activation
The Kampala Amendment on the Crime of Aggression has now been ratified by 25 states with Lithuania, the Netherlands and Switzerland all ratifying in 2015. 30 states must ratify before the amendment can enter into force, subject to approval by a two-thirds majority of the Assembly of States Parties in 2017.
Momentum grows around efforts to restrain UN Security Council veto
In 2015, momentum built around two initiatives calling on the UN Security Council’s permanent members—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States—to restrain the use of their veto in situations where atrocities are occurring. All too often, politics trumps attempts to bring impartial justice mechanisms, such as the ICC, into the equation. The first is a Code of Conduct being put forward by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency group of states that aims to reform the Security Council’s wider working methods. The second is the so-called France/Mexico initiative that aims to enlist states to a political declaration on restraining the veto.
Around the world 2015-16
See images from the year: