Kiribati accedes to the Rome Statute, on route to become the 123rd member of the ICC

Coalition for the ICC
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On 26 November 2019, Kiribati acceded to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and will become the 123rd State Party to the treaty once the Statute enters into force on 1 February 2020. It will also become the 16th State Party among the Pacific island states.  

The Kiribati Representative to the United Nations (UN), H.E. Mr. Teburoro Tito, former President of Kiribati, deposited the instrument of accession to the Rome Statute of the ICC at the UN Treaty Room.

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) - a global network of more than 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 countries – welcomed Kiribati’s accession to the Rome Statute and stated this as a key step forward towards universality of the Rome Statute, and further representation of Pacific states within the ASP. 

Adopted in July 1998, the Rome Statute led to the establishment of the International Criminal Court – the only permanent international judicial mechanism with the objective of investigating and prosecuting genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression – in 2002.

Melinda Reed, Acting Convenor for the CICC, congratulated Kiribati on this important step, and highlighted the impact that this accession can have on the Asia Pacific region and the Rome Statute system. “Kiribati’s accession is an important example of its commitment to human rights and the rule of law, as well as of the continuous support by States for the ICC and the global effort to end impunity,” stated Ms. Reed.

“We are confident that this step will encourage other states in the region to move forward with their own ratification and accession efforts, and further increase the Asia-Pacific representation before the ASP," Ms. Reed continued

Civil society has been working towards Kiribati’s accession to the Rome Statute for over a decade. In particular, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) has played a key role in this process. In its recent statement, the NGO thanked the parliamentarians, (including those within the PGA network) for their engagement within this process. Continued interactions between the authorities of Kiribati with key states and partners in the Pacific and beyond was also a driving force behind this accession.

While emphasizing on Kiribati's vital role as a global actor to address major global challenges stemming from the environmental and climate crisis, PGA President and MP (Sweden), Ms. Margareta Cederfelt, stated that, “By acceding to the Rome Statute, Kiribati has acquired an important status in the global fight against impunity, closely intertwined with the environmental crisis through criminalization of the commission of certain environmental crimes in the Rome Statute.”

Like other civil society organizations, the Coalition actively urged states in the Asia Pacific region to accede the Rome Statute. Its Campaign for Global Justice (CGJ) has been focused on Kiribati and other Pacific states since 2007. In January 2012, the Coalition called on then-President, H.E. Anote Tong, to consolidate its ongoing efforts and accede to the Rome Statute. The CGJ also focused on Kiribati in May 2010 and August 2007. The Coalition highlighted not only the ratification and accession efforts of some of the Pacific states, but also advances made in the implementation of the Statute within the region, as well as the inclusion of the promotion of human rights within the Pacific Plan enacted by the Pacific Islands Forum in 2005, the Denarau Declaration in 2015, among other regional commitments.

Once the treaty enters into force, Kiribati will be able to participate as a state party in the annual Assembly of States Parties (ASP) and contribute actively towards the discussions and outcomes of the work of the Assembly. The ASP 19th session- to be held in late 2020 - is crucial as it will address key issues like the election of the next ICC Prosecutor and six new judges to the ICC bench, as well as the review of the ICC that will be carried out for the next 2-3 years, with an aim of strengthening the ICC and the Rome Statute system.

In addition to highlighting the importance of accession, the Coalition’s Acting Convenor also encouraged Kiribati to move forward with other key actions aimed at increasing its commitment to international justice. “I encourage the Kiribati government to proceed quickly with the ratification of the Court’s Agreement on Privileges and Immunities (APIC), as well as implement the Rome Statute into domestic law,” Ms. Reed concluded.

Background: 

In March 2014, at the “Workshop for the Universality of the Rome Statute of the ICC and the Kampala Amendments on the Crime of Aggression in the Pacific Region” in New Zealand, Kiribati, raised questions surrounding the ability of the Rome Statute to address environmental crimes, as global warming and rising sea levels are the main issues Kiribati faces with regards to social justice.[1]

In September 2017, during the 48th Pacific Island States’ Summit, the Government of Kiribati (which had received the crucial legislative technical assistance by PGA Secretariat), committed to join the Rome Statute.

In May 2019, a delegation of Government representatives of Kiribati, including the Minister of Justice, attended the Pacific Islands Roundtable on the ratification and implementation of the Rome Statute of the ICC, organised by PGA. After the Roundtables, the Minister of Justice confirmed Kiribati’s interest in acceding to the Rome Statute during bilateral meetings with the ICC officials and PGA staff present at the Roundtable.

Two weeks after the Roundtable, the Cabinet of Kiribati approved the decision to accede to the Rome Statute. Shortly afterwards, PGA sent a tailored model instrument of accession to the Minister of Justice.

[1] Kiribati is expected to be the first country in which all land territory disappears due to global climate change.