The first week of the ICC Review Conference taking place in Kampala, Uganda wrapped up with some notable moments and exchanges, setting the stage for what will be a fascinating final week focused on potential amendments to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court. Between the conference-affiliated panels and the numerous side events taking place each day, there is no shortage of material to report about, but here are some highlights.
Before I dive into the legal jargon, I want to report about an alarming and brazen move by the Sudanese government to track its critics. Although the notoriously anti-ICC Sudanese government did not attend the Review Conference, it was discovered that members of the Sudanese embassy infiltrated the conference to see who was attending a panel on Sudan. The embassy staff arrived at the so-called People’s Space, an area where non-accredited NGOs could hold events, and reportedly started taking pictures of the attendees. Civil society groups alerted the ICC Secretariat security staff, and the Sudanese embassy representatives were forced to delete all their pictures.
Turning back to the conference itself, the final stocktaking exercises concluded last week, generating interesting presentations, for one, on the concept of “complementarity” – the need for countries that are party to the Rome Statute to be able and willing to prosecute international crimes in their domestic courts. The discussion focused on the need for countries to do more to put in place new laws and increase their capacity to prosecute those who commit mass atrocities crimes. The United Nations Development Program and the European Union gave presentations about how their wide-ranging rule of law programs can have a positive impact on capacity, with the EU suggesting that it would narrow some of its existing rule of law programs to support capacity to prosecute war crimes. Speeches by country delegates on this theme and in a number of related side events revealed some of the efforts that individual countries are taking to strengthen their systems for prosecuting the most egregious crimes. It was also striking how some states admitted that they had fallen short and needed help to do more.
The United States, Norway, and the Democratic Republic of Congo held a very interesting event about complementarity in the Congo, in which the Congolese deputy justice minister was put on the spot about why Bosco Ntaganda, who is being sought by the ICC for war crimes, including allegedly recruiting child soldiers, had not yet been turned over to the Court. The deputy justice minister bobbed and weaved. The Congo panel was overshadowed, however, by the murder on Wednesday of one of the country’s most established human rights advocates on the streets of Kinshasa.
David Abramowitz is the director of policy and government relations at Humanity United. Previously, he served as chief counsel to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he was responsible for advising the committee on issues such as international law, international justice, and global human rights, and democracy.