ICC Review Conference: Governments Should Commit to Justice

May 27, 2010

As you may have noticed, we released our Annual Report today. As always, both state and non-state actors are doing a great job at abusing human rights. But what’s becoming clearer and clearer is that governments are evading their responsibility to ensure justice and accountability for the victims of human rights abuses. This year’s Annual Report highlights this trend: the increasing tendency of governments to block advances in international justice by shielding allies from criticism and acting only when it’s politically convenient.

The need for effective global justice is a key lesson from the past year. Justice provides fairness and truth to those who suffer violations, deters human rights abuses, and ultimately delivers a more stable and secure world – Claudio Cordone, interim Secretary General of Amnesty International

But there’s still hope. On Sunday, State Parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC) will gather in Kampala, Uganda, for the Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the ICC. From May 31st to June 11th, states will have an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to ending impunity for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

This is a fundamental break with history. The old era of impunity is over. In its place, slowly but surely, we are witnessing the birth of a new “age of accountability.” It began with the special tribunals set up in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; today, the ICC is the keystone of a growing system of global justice that includes international tribunals, mixed international-national courts and domestic prosecutions – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon

There are three proposed amendment to the Rome Statute that will be considered by State Parties during the Review Conference: the deletion of Article 124, which allows states to exempt themselves from the Court’s jurisdiction for the first seven years after their ratification of the Rome Statute; the addition of the crime of aggression to the Court’s jurisdiction; and the amendment of Article 8 to classify the use of certain weapons, such as poison or poisoned weapons, asphyxiating gases and bullets that expand or flatten easily in the human body, as war crimes in non-international conflicts.

State Parties will also engage in a thorough process of stocktaking, to determine the effectiveness and impact of the Court’s work since its establishment. In particular, states will look at 4 specific issues: complementarity; co-operation; the impact of the Rome Statute system on victims and affected communities; and peace and justice.

Sadly, the United States still hasn’t reaffirmed its signing of the ICC treaty (President Clinton signed the treaty in the last days of his administration; President Bush subsequently “unsigned”). But the US is sending a delegation to the Review Conference, which is great news. Although we’re still waiting for an official policy on the ICC from the Administration, it has so far shown willingness to engage with the Court and we’re hoping that they will start providing assistance to the Court, especially with regard to the Darfur investigations.

As this year’s Annual Report shows, there’s still a long road ahead before governments fulfill their commitments to justice. The International Criminal Court is certainly the best way to move forward. But only 111 states have signed on to the Rome Statute – which means 81 still haven’t signed, including China, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Russia. Ensuring justice for all will require the commitment of each and every government to support the work of the ICC and the principles of international justice. And for those are not yet State Parties, it will require a commitment to ratify the Rome Statute.