General Assembly: 29th plenary meeting, 76th session
Delegates today stressed the importance of the International Criminal Court executing its mandate in an impartial manner, as the Court’s President updated the General Assembly on its caseload and judgements over the past year.
Piotr Hofmański, Court President, presenting the entity’s report of its activities from 1 August 2020 to 31 July 2021, noted that: “During the reporting period, several major milestones were reached.” The Appeals Chamber upheld a judgement of acquittal of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and his former youth minister, Blé Goudé, of crimes against humanity. It also confirmed the conviction and sentencing of Bosco Ntaganda, the former chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defence of the People, known as the CNDP, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Court’s first trial judgement, relating to the situation in Uganda, was issued against Dominic Ongwen, with the verdict and the sentence of 25 years both under appeal, the Court President said, while proceedings are also underway concerning alleged crimes in Timbuktu, Mali and the conflict between the Anti-Balaka and the Séléka militia groups in the Central African Republic.
States’ cooperation is a cornerstone of the Court’s operations as it has no enforcement powers of its own, he said, expressing concern that more than 10 arrest warrants issued by the Court remain outstanding, including resolutions imposing an obligation on Sudan and on Libya to cooperate fully with the Court’s investigations and prosecutions. Noting “more than 70 Member States among those seated in this hall have so far not decided” to join the Rome Statute, he urged them to give it serious consideration.
The representative of the Netherlands, who introduced the draft resolution titled “Report of the International Criminal Court”, voiced concern about the recent developments in Sudan. She called on all relevant parties to honour their commitments enshrined in the Memorandum of Understanding, signed earlier this year between the Court and the transitional Government of Sudan.
When the floor was opened for discussion, several delegates affirmed the importance of the Court’s continued efforts in the face of challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and external threats.
Sierra Leone’s delegate noted that “the wheels of international justice continue to turn” at the Court, emphasizing the relevance of its mandate and the need for continuing cooperation with the United Nations to address gaps in accountability.
Slovakia’s representative noted that despite the pandemic, approximately 11,000 victims were able to participate in cases before the Court during the reporting period. Nevertheless, the Court can only fully deliver on its mandate of ending impunity for the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes if it achieves universality, urging those all States that have not ratified the Rome Statute to do so.
However, despite those efforts, and achieving a perfect gender balance of nine female and nine male judges, several delegates expressed concern over a threat to the Court’s impartiality.
China’s delegate emphasized the Court must remain committed to an independent, objective and non-politicized position, resolutely resisting the abominable practices of political manipulation of judicial proceedings. International criminal justice is under unprecedented threat, he stressed, with an individual country having imposed international sanctions on Court prosecutors in September 2020. Although lifted, the root causes of those unilateral sanctions have yet to be eliminated.
Liechtenstein’s representative welcomed the lifting of the unprecedented measures that the former United States Administration had imposed against the Court. Emphasizing the importance of cooperation between States and the Court, he called for more political support to the latter when it comes under attack. He further drew attention to the Security Council’s receding interest in exercising its referral power, which is “proportionate to its inability to do meaningful work in the area of accountability”.
The representative of Bangladesh cited the instance of the forced displacement of Rohingyas from their ancestral homes in Myanmar, now being considered by the Court. Citing the investigation by the Court Prosecutor’s Office into the situation of Rohingya minorities, he called on all State Parties, including Myanmar, to cooperate with the investigations, so that the perpetrators of crimes committed against the Rohingya may be brought to justice, and the cycle of violence and impunity in Myanmar can be broken.
A number of other delegates addressed the Court’s persistent liquidity issues, which constrain its efficient and effective operation.
The representative of Germany, the second-largest contributor to the Court’s budget, said the Court fills a critical role in providing a forum for victims to air their grievances and seek redress. As such, it is important to secure additional voluntary contributions for the Trust Fund for Victims.
Canada’s delegate noted that the country has made an early payment of a portion of its 2021 and 2022 assessed contributions. However, having some States pay their contributions earlier each year — only to offset others that do not pay — is not an acceptable long-term financial solution. One proposed solution, she noted, is restricting States Parties in arrears from presenting candidates for elected positions to the Court.
At the outset of the meeting, Abdullah Shahid, (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, made opening remarks.
Also speaking today were representatives of Norway (on behalf of the Nordic Countries), Côte d'Ivoire (on behalf of the African States), Italy, Romania, Slovenia, Brazil, Switzerland, Spain, Guatemala, United States, Ecuador and Peru, as well as the representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer.
The Assembly will reconvene on Thursday, 11 November, at 10 a.m. to fill vacancies in its subsidiary bodies, take action on a draft decision relating to crime prevention and criminal justice, and a draft resolution concerning strengthening the United Nations system; and at 3 p.m. to continue consideration of the report of the International Criminal Court.