The annual session of the Assembly of States Parties starts on Monday, December 5, at the World Forum in The Hague, the Netherlands.
This year’s session of the assembly, the managerial oversight and legislative body of the International Criminal Court (ICC) will see general debates on matters such as cooperation, the activities of the court and the Trust Fund for Victims, recommendations concerning the election of the Registrar, and budgetary allocation.
States parties to the Rome Statute, observer states, invited states, international and regional organisations, and representatives from civil society will be monitoring sessions and interacting with delegates to advocate a fair, effective, and independent International Criminal Court.
The session will also be quite different from last year’s as July this year marked the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty. In-person participation is guaranteed unlike last year, when it was limited as the session was held remotely, with Covid-19 containment measures being applied.
It is a moment of renewed attention to the role of the court. One highlight is ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s swift action to contribute to delivering justice for victims of serious international crimes in various aspects when he opened an investigation into the situation of Ukraine in March 2022 following a referral by an unprecedented number of state parties.
Another is his challenging of the court by seeking its authorisation to hold a hearing on the confirmation of charges against Joseph Kony, the fugitive head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, in his absence.
Ahead of the 21st session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), which ends on Saturday, December 10, 2022, the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICCBA) has urged the ASP to support staff on the defence and victims team to ensure basic labour protections and fair pay.
According to ICCBA, a group of 35 support staff have signalled their intention to demonstrate at the ASP and boycott work from December 5-9, 2022, inevitably impacting ICC proceedings.
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It has asked for an increase in the remuneration of the defence and victims’ team members in the legal aid policy in line with the inflation rate in the Netherlands
In addition, it has urged the ASP to make concrete commitments to providing basic social protections to support staff in the proposed legal aid policy to be adopted at the ASP 2023.
The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) also called on the ASP to ensure that adequate and suitable financial resources are provided through the court’s regular budget without arbitrary limitations that may affect perceptions of the court’s legitimacy and independence.
Members of the coalition have shared their views and recommendations on the CICC platform that was hashtagged #NGOVoices at #ASP21 ahead of the 21st session. The Asia Justice and Rights organisation asked the ICC to prioritise the ongoing Bangladesh/Myanmar investigation and show continued support for the pursuit of justice for all the people of Myanmar.
“We call upon states parties to fully support the ICC so its mandate is fulfilled, particularly around outreach, raising awareness, and interacting with victims and survivors. This cannot be achieved without sufficient budgetary allocation,” Joanne Mutonga, Programme Officer at the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-Kenya) shared her views.
The Acting Convenor of the CICC, Melinda Reed, stated that “we look to states parties at this ASP session to reaffirm the crucial role of civil society organisations and human rights defenders fighting to bring justice to victims around the world and working with the court.”
Numerous side events will take place around this year’s ASP session and will provide an opportunity for enhanced dialogue on specific topics of mutual concern, including realising reparative justice for victims of international crime and what the states parties can do; the launching of the annual report of the Office of the Prosecutor; how long the trials at the ICC take; and making victims’ rights meaningful at the ICC.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a briefing note on November 22, 2022, ahead of the 21st ASP session setting out a checklist to states parties in what it considered key areas for action to bolster their commitment. These include supporting courts tackling grave international crimes, expanding ICC membership, criminalising and prosecuting grave international crimes domestically, giving all victims of grave international crimes equal access to justice, and restraining United Nations Security Council vetoes in situations of grave international crimes.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) will participate in the session with a focus on advocating the centrality of victims and survivors in ICC proceedings, an improved engagement with and protection of civil society, effective complementarity and cooperation with the ICC, adequate funding of the court’s work, a careful assessment and implementation of the International Experts’ recommendations to improve the court’s performance, and the ICC election processes, which are underlined by diversity and integrity.
The Assembly of States Parties is composed of representatives of the States that have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute. Each state party has a representative who is proposed to the Credential Committee by the head of state or government, or the minister of Foreign Affairs, in accordance with Chapter IV of the Rules of Procedure of the ASP.