Security Council Holds Open Debate on International Criminal Court

25 Oct

On 17 October the UN Security Council (SC) held an open debate on the subject “Peace and justice, with a special focus on the role of the International Criminal Court”. In addition to the five permanent members of the SC – China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as the ten non-permanent members – Azerbaijan, Colombia, Germany Guatemala, India, Morocco, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Togo -, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Judge and President of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Song Sang-Hyun, and a representative of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Court, Phakiso Mochochoko, also made statements at the debate. Many other non-members of the SC offered statements as well.

The majority of the speakers praised the good timing of the debate, as this year the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, celebrates its tenth anniversary. Furthermore, perhaps even more symbolic, Guatemala, which is presiding at the SC this month as president, is the latest state that has ratified the Statute. Therefore, at the initiative of Guatemala, this debate on peace and justice and the ICC was held this month. Many states, realizing the vitality and the sensitivity of the issue, expressed their wish to hear from the ICC at the SC on a more regular basis.

As Mr. Sang-Hyun and Mr. Mochochoko argued in their statements, and what was later on repeated by the vast majority of speakers at the debate, there cannot be peace without justice and there cannot be justice without peace. If the international community is aiming for sustainable peace, justice cannot be overshadowed and be seen as a secondary matter in any conflict resolution. As oftentimes justice has been sacrificed in order to reach peace, there is a prevailing “culture of impunity”  in many conflict-torn countries across the world. As General-Secretary Ki-moon noted, this is a new age of accountability and “the perpetrators can no longer be confident that their crimes will be unpunished”.

Another issue that was widely discussed among the speakers was the relationship between the SC and the ICC as well as their distinct mandates. While the UN SC is essentially a political body, which makes its decisions based often subjected to political aspirations and biases,, the ICC represents an international criminal law enforcement tool, which was set up to function completely independent and uninfluenced by the political currents often endemic in the SC. The separation of distinctive mandates is essential when speaking of referrals. When a state is not a party to the ICC, the SC, seeing that grave crimes have been committed and thus  a potential threat to an international peace and security has been identified, can refer the case to the ICC. The referral to the ICC should be impartial, therefore, as Pakistan pointed out, prepared with diligent scrutiny and never be a default process when an injustice occurs. On the other hand, the final decision would be made by the ICC whether to initiate an investigation or not.

Another issue widely addressed at the debate was the cooperation between the two institutions and how it should and could be improved. As non-SC members, such as New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh and Lithuania pointed out, when the referral has been made, the SC has to act with the utmost commitment and support in order to make sure that the referral will be followed through upon. Failure in an execution of arrest warrants is a great example where there has been a lack of commitment.

Another important issue brought up during the debate was the Syrian case. Such states as Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia and Slovenia mentioned that mass breaches of human rights and grave atrocities against the Syrian population should be to the ICC. Keeping in mind how impotent the SC has been in acting on the Syrian case due seemingly intractable country positions, it would be unlikely to expect that this time things will go differently. Uruguay, on the other hand, brought up an important point – it raised a question, whether or not it would be fair and right if the permanent SC members would restrain from their veto power when dealing with such issues as crimes against humanity..

As international humanitarian law continues to gain more attention and legitimacy worldwide, the debate at the UN SC was timely and necessary. Many important issues have been addressed and the support that states declared for the ICC is encouraging and promising. A lot is still left to do to ensure global peace and justice, but fighting the “culture of impunity” and preventing future human rights violations through collaboration between the UN SC and the ICC is one of the ways to do it.

 

—Donata Saulyte

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