|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Annual Assembly of States Parties
to International Criminal Court
To remain relevant as the world’s only forum for cases beyond national jurisdiction and capabilities, the International Criminal Court must cement commitments to bolster its annual budget, improve its election process and eliminate some weaker practices, members of a coalition of 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 countries said today at a Headquarters press conference.
The representatives of Amnesty International, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and the International Commission of Jurists highlighted concerns and proposed remedies to bolster the decade-old legal body, speaking at the press conference held during the Court’s annual Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute in New York from 12 to 21 December.
The Assembly’s current consideration of elections, the 2012 budget adoption and independent oversight mechanisms were some of the most crucial issues for the non-governmental organization community members, said moderator Oriane Maillet, Head of Communications at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, which advocated for a fair, effective and independent Court and for improved access to justice for victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Alarmed that the Court’s five biggest donors had recommended shrinking the budget from its 2011 level of €103 million, Jonathan O’Donohue, Legal Advisor on International Justice at Amnesty International, said that any cuts or freezes could hobble the Court’s impact at a time when it was most needed to investigate new and emerging cases. The consequences would be “damaging”. Better and more efficient measures were needed to maximize and grow the budget, he said.
“To achieve efficiency, you actually need to do the detailed work of review and analysis and finding better, more effective options,” he said. Such efficiencies were not found through “slashing the budget”.
Turning to another area of concern, two representatives of Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice provided details of its recent “report card” on the Court, analysing the Court’s institutional development, work and internal policies and personnel statistics.
Legal Officer Katharine Orlovsky first noted that charges for gender-based crimes had now been brought in six of the seven situations before the Court and that the Office of the Prosecutor was currently investigating those crimes in the seventh situation of Libya. She welcomed Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s commitment in that area.
She then went on to describe the meagre grade the Court received regarding personnel issues, with very few women in decision-making positions. Regarding recent elections, there were simply not enough female candidates running for positions as judges and the selection process lacked transparency and gender representation, she said, calling for the Assembly to review and improve both processes.
Her colleague, Board Member María Solís García, pointed to several specific cases of bad practices, including the rules of procedure on who could speak before the Assembly. The annual meeting was a space for work, debate and finding solutions, and not for diplomacy or political actions from Heads of States, especially when they came from countries on the Court’s examination list. She noted last year’s speech from Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and this year’s address by Côte d’Ivoire’s Head of State as examples of that practice. Victims were not afforded the same right, she said. She hoped the practice would be eliminated.
Regarding elections, she was dismayed that the Coalition’s Independent Panel of Experts, formed to examine candidates, had not been used. Instead, the election process was rife with vote trading, disregarding the candidates’ qualifications, she said.
Turning to regional matters, George Kegoro, Executive Director of the Kenyan Section, International Commission of Jurists, described the “difficult” relationship between the African Union and the Court since the issuance of an arrest warrant against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir.
With Africa having the largest number of States Parties to the Court, 33 of 119 members, and with the election of the Gambia’s Fatou Bensouda as its head, the Assembly provided an opportunity to discuss those difficulties, which to date had not been resolved, he said.
As an example, he said the world would soon learn whether or not the Kenyan cases [involving six individuals suspected of post-election violence] would go to trial before the Court. Kenya had previously received African Union backing in its unsuccessful attempts to defer the prosecution of those above-mentioned cases, he said, noting that it was possible that the Union would again support Kenya if the country chose not to cooperate.
“In such an event, the system of international justice, as enshrined under the Rome Statute, will face intolerable uncertainties,” he concluded.
Outlining some of the critical changes in the Middle East and prospects for the Court in that context, Gamal Eid, Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, expressed optimism over new countries joining. However, he said the Court had “many enemies” in the region, such as Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“In the Arab world, there is no in-between,” he said. “You have to be on the side of the dictatorship or with the victims. That means impunity had become systematic.”
In a regional overview, he briefly highlighted the little-discussed revolution in Bahrain, which had been crushed. He also believed there were cases of crimes against humanity in Libya and Syria. He noted that Tunisia had not experienced crimes against humanity during its revolution. After the revolutions in the region, Tunisia joined the Court, he said, and Egypt would continue considerations of the matter next year.
Asked what reasons countries had provided for wanting to slash contributions to the Court, Mr. O’Donohue said the global financial crisis was a key issue.
“If you want to address impunity for these very serious crimes, then you have to establish a very strong international justice system that isn’t only subject to the resources available at the time,” he said. “You need to have a court that can deal with situations around the world. You can’t turn it on or off like a tap, as required.”
Asked how the Court would insulate itself from the whims of contributors, he said “You can’t drive the budgetary process by how much States are willing to pay. You have to start first with what the Court needs and then do an assessment.”
Answering a question about the similarities between the pre-revolution Egyptian population and the current United States population, Mr. Eid said Egyptians were optimistic and believed that there was a time of transition. However, in the United States, he had heard there were more laws challenging human and civil rights, making him worry about democracy in that country.
Asked about Côte d’Ivoire Prime Minister Guillaume Soro’s address to the Assembly, when he may be investigated by the Court, Ms. Solís García called it “bad practice” and a “conflict of interest” that should be eliminated.
Asked about what the ramifications should be for vote trading during Court elections, she said the practice in the Assembly had mirrored the same practices at the United Nations. “The great problem here is they are not respecting the Rome Statute,” she said. “They are violating the Statute by trading votes.”
Asked if the States Parties should more forcefully say that the Court was different than other bodies and set up a complaint mechanism to root out vote trading, Ms. Maillet said the Coalition was advocating for that action. Mr. O’Donohue added that Jordan had made a strong statement on the issue in the Assembly’s plenary recently.
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For information media • not an official record