ASP18 begins with a renewed determination towards a strengthened Rome Statute System

Assembly of States Parties 2019 

2 December 2019

"State Parties must do all it takes and be prepared to do more"- ICC President, Chile Eboe-Osuji.

First Plenary Meeting

On 2 December 2019, the 18th session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) kicked off in The Hague, The Netherlands. Major points for discussion at ASP18 include threats and challenges to the Court, and ways to strengthen the Rome Statute system. ICC State Parties, observers and civil society organizations are attending this year’s ASP session. Other topics on the agenda of the session include the upcoming ICC judicial and prosecutor elections, victims’ rights, state cooperation, amendments to the Statute, and the 2020 ICC Budget.

Opening of the Session

ASP President O-Gon Kwon opened the 18th session of the ASP in congratulating Kiribati for its accession to the Rome Statute just last week, and pausing for a moment of silence in respect of victims of mass atrocities. He also touched on the important preparation work related to the  2020 elections of the ICC Prosecutor and six new judges, as well as the on-going establishment of an Independent expert group (IER) aimed at strengthening the Court and the Rome Statute.

ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji, addressed the threats and challenges faced by the Court, referring explicitly to threats and sanctions by the US towards ICC officials for their work on the Afghanistan situation. President Eboe-Osuji called the ICC one of the greatest multilateral institutions in recent decades, and stressed the critical need to uphold and protect the principles of the Rome Statute.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reported key progress by her Office, as well as ´disappointments´ from the past year, including the acquittal of Gbagbo and Blé Goudé, as well as the judges´ refusal to allow her Office to open an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan. Prosecutor Bensouda also commented on the positive update related to the opening of an investigation into the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar, and reported on progress in several investigations and preliminary examinations over the past year. Prosecutor Bensouda also spoke about her expectations for the coming year: On the threats faced by the Court, Prosecutor Bensouda reminded that "an attack on the ICC is an attack on all of us, including States Parties."
Prosecutor Bensouda noted that we should expect that the attacks on the Court will continue stronger as the work will increase in more situations.

Felipe Michelini, Chair of the Board of the ICC Trust Fund for Victims recalled the crucial role of the ASP in the fight against impunity for Rome Statute crimes and provided updates on the work of the Fund.

General Debate

ASP18 Day one also saw the start of the General Debate, in which States Parties address the plenary to raise key issues related to the Rome Statute system. Non-States Parties, international and regional organizations and non-governmental organizations will also be given the floor to address the plenary of states as observers on day two.

Key topics in the first segment of the debate included political support to the Court, cooperation, the threats faced by the ICC, the on-going ‘ICC review' process, and upcoming elections.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Finnish MFA, Pekka Haavisto underscored the importance of the ICC in the international rules-based order and recalled the importance of cooperation with the Court. Minister Haavisto expressed the EU´s concerns about measures against ICC officials and commitment to protect the Court against threats.

States, including Sweden, the United Kingdom, Ecuador, Ireland, Palestine, as well as Finland, on behalf of the EU, underscored the need for States Parties to robustly stand in support of the ICC as a defense to the external challenges which threaten its very existence and its independence.

Among the States that spoke on the first day, it was broadly agreed that measures aimed at reviewing the Court’s performance, including the establishment of an Independent Expert Review, are an essential step in reinforcing the ICC’s capacity to implement its mandate independently and effectively.

States including the Netherlands, Austria, Iceland, Ireland, Uruguay and Trinidad and Tobago mentioned the unique challenges posed by investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender based crimes, welcoming the OTP’s Policy Paper on SGBC, among other initiatives of the Court, while also noting that more remains to be done. 

Looking ahead to 2020, States highlighted the upcoming elections of the next Chief Prosecutor and six new judges, robustly calling for transparent and objective processes to nominate and elect the most highly qualified individuals to lead the Court. Some States took the opportunity to announce their intent to nominate candidates for the 2020 judicial elections, including Georgia, and the UK.

Finally, a number of states, including Malawi, Czechia, Ireland, Norway, Mexico and Slovenia called on States Parties to adopt the latest amendment on the agenda, which would include starvation as a war crime in situations of non-international armed conflicts to the Rome Statute. The crime only exists in the Statute in the context of international armed conflicts.

Other States that addressed the plenary included: Bangladesh, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Luxembourg, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Uganda, Vanuatu and Zambia.

Side Events

Uganda, Ireland, The Netherlands and Africa Legal Aid (AFLA) kicked off ASP18 with the first of dozens of side events, with "Lessons from the Gbagbo and Blé Goudé Case and ICC review,” which focused on the fairness of ICC proceedings.

Sierra Leone, the Coalition for the ICC, and the African Network for International Criminal Justice (ANICJ) hosted "The future of International Criminal Justice and Africa: Strengthening the role of the International Criminal Court in the African region,”  in which state and civil society representatives from the region discussed challenges related to cooperation in the Africa context, and the key role of victims, stressing the need to strengthen outreach efforts.

The Mexican Commission for Defense and Protection of Human Rights (CMDPDH), Idheas-Litigio Estratégico, Reporters Without Borders, FIDH and the Coalition for the ICC organized a side-event titled, “Should the ICC open a preliminary examination in Mexico?” Participants discussed allegations of crimes against humanity in Mexico, particularly in the context of the fight against drug trafficking organizations.

The State of Palestine and Al-Haq launched an exhibit "Bringing justice home: from the ICC to the victims in Palestine”.

FIDH, HRW and the American Bar Association (ABA)-ICC Project, hosted an event titled, "A Civil Society Conversation on ICC Review: Towards a Victim-Centered Assessment of ICC Performance". Panelists and participants spoke about the shortcomings of the ongoing "ICC review" process, underscoring the need to conduct meaningful engagement with victims and affected communities, particularly to understand their expectations.

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, in their event “The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence – Translating the lived experience of sexual violence survivors into law and policy”, provided a platform to discuss how to advance accountability for sexual violence.

Vanuatu, the Ecological Defence Integrity, Green Transparency, the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the Institute for Environmental Security held an event focused on the role of the ICC in investigating and prosecuting ecocide.

Missed something? Catch up on the action with all of our ASP18 Daily Summaries.

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