Press Conference Meeting of States Parties to International Criminal Court

30 November 2011

Press Conference Meeting of States Parties to International Criminal Court

30 November 2011
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The upcoming meeting of the States parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) — to be held at the United Nations from 12 to 21 December — would be pivotal in determining whether gaps between the aspirations of the Rome Statute, which established the Court, and its actual delivery of justice could be closed, representatives of an international non-governmental organization advocating for a fair, effective and independent Court said in a Headquarters press conference today.

Highlighting the major decisions to be taken at that meeting, William Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for ICC — which includes 2,500 civil society organizations from 150 different countries — said the tenth Assembly of States parties to the Rome Statute would set the Court’s budget, elect six new judges and name a new chief prosecutor to replace Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

Joined by Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch, and Stephen Lamony, Africa Outreach Liaison and Situations Advisor for the Coalition, Mr. Pace noted that the work of the Search Committee for the Position of Prosecutor, which was mandated by the Assembly of States parties to facilitate the nomination and consensual election of the next prosecutor, had resulted in four candidates.

With support coalescing behind two of them — Fatou B. Bensouda, a deputy prosecutor for the Court from the Gambia, and Mohamed Chande Othman, Chief Justice of Tanzania — he said the nomination process would close later today and either one or both of those candidates would be considered at the meeting of States parties.  Should an election be required, it was expected to be held on 12 December.

Mr. Pace also drew attention to the work of the Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections, which the Coalition set up to help ensure that qualified judges were nominated to the Court.  Chaired by Richard Goldstone and Patricia Wald, the panel had assessed all 19 candidates nominated for Court judgeships and determined that four were unqualified.

Underscoring the stakes involved in the decisions to be taken by the Assembly of States parties, Mr. Dicker said that “from Kenya to Syria… the ICC has increasingly come to symbolize the last, best hope of victims for justice.”  But, after a decade of steady progress by the Court in transforming the aspirations of the Rome Statute into reality, the past year had thrown into stark relief the enormous challenges that lay ahead.

Surveying events over the past year, he said the Security Council’s referral to the Court of the situation in Libya and the request by current Ivoirian President Alassane Outtara for the Court to open an investigation into the post-election conflict had lifted the Court’s profile on the world stage to a new level.  But, while that heightened profile marked expanded influence, it carried real risks, particularly given the push by some of the largest contributors to the Court’s budget for “zero nominal growth”, despite its expanded portfolio.  That approach was, he argued, neither responsible, nor smart.

At the same time, fears that some States were increasingly using the Court as an instrument to achieve their own political ends would certainly test the mettle of the next prosecutor, he said.  The Court’s expanded caseload also put a premium on electing judges who had experience managing complex procedures in criminal courtrooms, rather than law professors or former diplomats.

Against that backdrop, he highlighted the efforts of the Prosecutor Search Committee, which had attempted to break with a tradition of governmental vote-swapping that put merit in the back seat and elevated political arrangements.

Offering concrete examples of the Court’s recent work on Africa-related cases, Mr. Lamony noted that earlier in the day, Laurent Gbagbo,former president of Côte d’Ivoire, had been transferred to The Hague following the issuance of an arrest warrant under seal on suspicions of crimes against humanity, committed in the aftermath of national elections in 2010.

He also noted that, on 28 November, Kenya’s High Court also issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  That decision meant Mr. al-Bashir would be arrested as soon as he stepped foot on Kenyan territory.  In addition, the Court’s judges would also decide if Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, who is in the custody of the current Libyan Government and is wanted by the Court for crimes against humanity, would be tried in Libya or The Hague.

Responding to a request for further details on the debate surrounding the Court’s budget, Mr. Dicker said its largest contributors, including Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, France and Italy, were supporting the zero-growth argument.  While the Coalition wanted the Court to work as efficiently as possible — it should not be seen as a “plush posting”, but a hardworking institution — expecting its budget to decrease while its caseload increased was unreasonable.  He added that some States took strong exception to the zero-growth strategy, noting that those pushing for a budget that would allow for the Court to do its job in the face of heightened expectations included Switzerland and Argentina.

Asked if the fact that the two leading candidates for prosecutor were from Africa would increase acceptance of the Court across the continent, Mr. Lamony cautioned against stereotyping the whole continent as “against the ICC”.  In addition to the recent decision in Kenya, other African States had already announced that they, too, would arrest President al-Bashir in compliance with the Court’s warrants against him.  Nonetheless, the issues that some African States had with the Court would not be solved with the selection of an African prosecutor.

Following up, Mr. Dicker said the expected presence of the President of Botswana at the upcoming Assembly of States parties proved it was wrong to lump a whole continent into one cast.  But, he acknowledged that Court worked on “uneven terrain”.  The United States, China and the Russian Federation, which were not parties to the Rome Statute, had a way of protecting the States they favoured from prosecution.  Still, the fact that it was not possible to ensure justice for victims in Gaza did not provide an excuse to deny it to victims in Darfur.

Questioned about the practice of Government vote-swapping in international elections, Mr. Pace agreed that whenever Governments engaged in the most “crude” kind of vote trading, it seriously undermined the confidence and legitimacy of those elections, as well as appointments.  It was a terrible policy for a government to say, “We’ll vote for your candidate if you vote for ours.”  In the case of ICC, Governments were electing a prosecutor at the highest global level, and questions about the prosecutor’s legitimacy would pose a grave threat to the Court’s integrity.  But, because it was so hard to change the electoral behaviour of Governments, the Coalition was focused on improving the nomination process.

Responding to a question on allegations of recent human rights violations in Egypt, Mr. Dicker agreed that justice for serious human rights violations was crucial for Egypt’s transition to a society where the rule of law and human rights were respected.  Yet, as an outlet of last resort, ICC stepped in only when national authorities were unwilling or unable to provide justice.  Thus, it must be determined if that was the case in Egypt’s current system.  It was also necessary to determine if the alleged human rights violations constituted systematic or widespread attacks on a civilian population.

Invited to assess the immunity deal offered to outgoing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, Mr. Dicker said it was “one of the worst ideas — worst practices of the year”.  It said:  “Kill as many as you can to cling to power, and if you fail, don’t worry, you won’t risk prosecution.”  Still, as backed up by plenty of State and United Nations practice, the arrangement had no legal viability outside Yemen’s borders.  He was not currently aware of approval and authorization by the United Nations for the Yemen deal.  If the United Nations had approved it, it would represent a departure from the Organization’s policy.

Mr. Pace noted that if a new Yemeni Government ratified the treaty, it would give the Court jurisdiction for crimes that occurred from 1 July 2002 and any agreement in the exchange of power would unlikely trump that jurisdiction.  The Security Council could also take action, he added.

Asked whether the decision by the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) to allow Ahmed Haroun — who is also indicted by the Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur — to fly on United Nations aircraft during recent mediation efforts was consistent with United Nations practice, Mr. Pace said the Coalition members thought it showed terrible judgement.  Moreover, it had done almost no good in furthering international and regional peace and security.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.