Amid Rise in Atrocity Crimes, Speakers Urge Universal Support for International Criminal Court as General Assembly Considers Judicial Body’s Annual Report

Concern Expressed over Withdrawal Announcements by South Africa, Burundi, Gambia

With crimes against humanity multiplying around the world, States must push forward toward - and not back away from - universal support for the International Criminal Court, the General Assembly heard today, as it considered the latest annual report of the Hague-based judicial body.

Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) recalled that 18 years had elapsed since the world came together in Rome to establish the International Criminal Court. Nevertheless, daily atrocities committed against innocent civilians continued to shock the international conscience. Encouraging States to promote the universality of the Rome Statute - the treaty that had established the Court and whose States Parties had accepted its jurisdiction - he warned that Member States should strengthen, not diminish, their resolve to end impunity.

Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, President of the International Criminal Court, echoed that sentiment, stressing, "The assistance and cooperation of States remains crucial for the Court's ability to conduct its mandate." Over the last two decades, she said, the body had given a voice to victims and made strides in addressing crimes such as the use of child soldiers, sexual violence in conflict attacks on civilians and the destruction of cultural property, while its Trust Fund for Victims had assisted more than 300,000 victims with physical and psychological rehabilitation and material support.

Presenting the Court's latest annual report, she said the past year had seen three judgments, two trials held in their entirety, two ongoing trials and another set to begin soon. Following convictions, reparations proceedings were underway in four cases. Among other key developments, the Court had sentenced former Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba to concurrent terms of 18 years in prison for rape and 16 years for murder carried out in the Central African Republic.

In its first conviction relating to the protection of cultural property, she said, the Court had sentenced Ahmad Al Mahdi - a former prominent figure of an Al-Qaida splinter group - to nine years in prison for destroying 10 buildings of a religious and historical character in Timbuktu, Mali. It had also begun a trial against CAte d'Ivoire's former President, Laurent Gbagbo, and another Ivoirian politician, who stood accused of murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts allegedly committed during the country's 2010?2011 post-election violence.

Throughout the debate, many speakers expressed their support for those "unprecedented" judicial activities, with several noting that trials against prominent leaders demonstrated that no one was above international law. However, a number of delegates expressed regret that several nations - including South Africa, Burundi and Gambia - had recently announced their withdrawal, or their intention to withdraw, from the Rome Statute.

Switzerland's representative, stressing that those withdrawals sent a troubling signal, declared, "If anything, the multiplication of horrendous crimes around the globe should prompt us all to engage more thoroughly in the fight against impunity, and certainly not to reduce the commitment." Indeed, he said, it was precisely because the Court successfully executed its mandate that some States rejected it.

Several speakers, including Denmark's representative, who spoke on behalf of the Nordic countries, emphasized the need for stronger cooperation between the Court and the Security Council, particularly in cases of non-cooperation with the Court. Expressing deep regret that the Council had been unable to refer the Syrian situation to the Court, and urging its members to continue those efforts, he said justice must also be ensured for victims of mass atrocities in Iraq.

In that regard, the Philippines' representative joined other speakers in calling on the five permanent Council members to refrain from using their veto in situations involving mass atrocity crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court. Expressing her delegation's support for the code of conduct for Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, she further called on the Council to take the necessary follow-up measures on situations it had referred to the Court, so as to uphold the credibility of both institutions and to ensure accountability.

Among other prominent issues, a number of delegates welcomed new ratifications of the Kampala Amendments on Crimes of Aggression, which would enter into force for 30 States in June 2017. Chile's representative, for one, recalled that his Government had deposited its instrument of ratification last month and had been working to integrate the crime of aggression into Chilean national law.

The representative of the United States, however, expressed her delegation's serious concerns about the Crimes of Aggression amendments, emphasizing that their activation should be preceded by concrete steps to provide greater clarity regarding conduct and which States would be covered by them.

Meanwhile, other speakers raised concerns about selectivity in the Court's actions and its willingness to "turn a blind eye" to crimes committed in certain parts of the world. In that vein, Cuba's representative pointed to referrals made by the Security Council as confirmation of a negative trend of continuously and unfairly attacking developing countries. The Court must not be subservient to political interests that destroy its objectivity, she said, expressing regret that crimes committed by Council's powers were exempt from prosecution.

Similarly, Sudan's representative warned against attempts to turn the Court into a platform for some States to carry out their own political objectives, in contravention of international law and the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. Stressing that the body was a tool aimed at targeting Africa's leaders, he called for an end to the political calculations that were staining the Court's reputation.

Senegal's representative emphasized, in that regard, that strengthening the relationship between Africa and the Court should be of the highest priority, especially given the recent decisions of several African nations to withdraw from the Rome Statute. "Senegal still hopes that a dynamic consensus could be found so that Africa could play a major role against impunity," he said, stressing that the needs of victims could not be disregarded in the "era of accountability".

Burundi's representative said the Court had not lived up to its core principles of impartiality and independence. The African people had found that the judicial body was in the hands of a number of powerful countries, he said. As one of the three countries to recently withdraw from the Rome Statute, Burundi pursued principles of impartiality and non-politicization of international principles. As long as those principles were not adhered to and partiality prevailed, the Court would be flawed.

At the meeting's outset, the Assembly observed a minute of silence to honour Sheikh Khalifa Bin Hamad Al-Thani, the late Emir of Qatar, who had passed away last week.

Also speaking were the representatives of the European Union, Trinidad and Tobago (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Romania, Italy, Canada, Georgia, Poland, Peru, Liechtenstein, Cyprus, Nigeria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Slovenia, Bangladesh, United Republic of Tanzania, Mexico, China, Netherlands, Argentina, Spain, Republic of Korea, Kenya, Ukraine, Venezuela and the Russian Federation.

The representatives of Ukraine, Syria and Georgia exercised their right of reply.

The General Assembly will reconvene in plenary at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 November, to discuss action-oriented recommendations to address the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of the 2015/16 El NiAo phenomenon.

Background

The General Assembly met today to consider the work of the International Criminal Court, having before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the Court's annual report on its activities for 2015/16 (document A/71/342) and the Secretary-General's reports on information relevant to the implementation of article 3 of the Relationship Agreement between the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (document A/71/346)) as well as expenses incurred and reimbursement received by the United Nations in connection with assistance provided to the International Criminal Court (document A/71/349).

Opening Remarks

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, recalled that 18 years had elapsed since the world came together in Rome to establish the Court, with jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community in order to put an end to impunity for their perpetrators and contribute to the future prevention of such crimes. Indeed, he said, the Court had been created "bearing in mind the millions of children, women and men who have been victims of unimaginable atrocities that deeply shock the conscience of humanity, and recognizing that such grave crimes threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world". In the nearly two decades since that time, the international community's conscience continued to be shocked by the atrocities perpetuated daily against innocent victims. "It is imperative that we draw on the spirit that led to the establishment of the Court to strengthen - not diminish - our resolve to put an end to impunity of the perpetrators of these crimes," he stressed, encouraging States to work to promote the Court's effective functioning and the universality of the Rome Statute.

Introduction of Report by President of International Criminal Court

SILVIA FERNA�NDEZ DE GURMENDI, President of the International Criminal Court, presenting the body's annual report, contained in document A/71/342, said the past year was a very busy one with unprecedented judicial activity. Among other things, the Court had opened its new, purpose-built permanent premises and concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which provided for assistance to all parties and participants to the judicial proceedings. Three judgments had been issued since her last report, two trials were held in their entirety, two trials were ongoing and another one was set to begin soon. Following convictions, reparations proceedings were underway in four cases.

She said that in the situation in the Central African Republic, former Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba had been convicted in the first instance for failure to punish or prevent crimes committed by his subordinates. He had been sentenced to 18 years in prison for rape as a war crime and a crime against humanity, to be served concurrently with a sentence of 16 years in relation to murder as a war crime and a crime against humanity, and the war crime of pillaging. Both the judgement on conviction and the sentence were currently before the Appeals Chamber, she said, noting that reparations proceedings had also begun.

The Court had held its first trial in relation to the situation in Mali, she continued, recalling that the case had only lasted three days after the accused had admitted his guilt. Ahmad Al Mahdi, a former prominent figure of an Al-Qaida splinter group, had pleaded guilty to the war crime of attacking protected objects in relation to the destruction of 10 buildings of a religious and historical character in Timbuktu. He was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment and that sentence had not become final since it had not been appealed. While the Court had held that crimes against property were generally of lesser gravity than those committed against persons, it had found that Mr. Al Mahdi's crime was of significant gravity given the symbolic and emotional value of the buildings destroyed, as well as their religious character and the discriminatory religious motive behind their destruction.

From September 2015 to April 2016, she said, the Court had held its first trial on charges of offenses against the administration of justice in the Bemba et al. case. On 19 October, the Trial Chamber had found the five accused guilty of various offenses against the administration of justice, including corruptly influencing witnesses. Penalties would be pronounced at a later date, she said, noting that the verdict was not yet final. The Court had also begun the first trial in the situation in CAte d'Ivoire against Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Ble Goude. The co-accused had been charged with the crimes against humanity of murder, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts allegedly committed during post-election violence between December 2010 and April 2011.

Reviewing other developments, she said the Court had confirmed a total of 70 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Dominic Ongwen of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. In another new development, the Court had, for the first time, sent convicted persons to serve their sentences in one of its States Parties. Thomas Lubanga and Germain Katanga had both expressed their preference to serve their sentences in their home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had been made possible through the conclusion of an ad hoc agreement with that country. The Court had also opened an investigation into the situation in Georgia in relation to crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed between 1 July and 10 October 2008. In accordance with the Rome Statute, the Pre-Trial Chamber had taken into consideration representations on behalf of more than 6,000 victims to the proposed investigation.

In total, she said, there were currently 10 situations under investigation by the Court, of which five had been referred to the Prosecutor by the States concerned. In September, the Prosecutor had received a new referral, from the Government of Gabon, concerning the situation in the country since May 2016. The Prosecutor was currently conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether the criteria under the Rome Statute for opening an investigation had been met.

"The assistance and cooperation of States remains crucial for the Court's ability to conduct its mandate," she stressed, adding that States Parties to the Rome Statute were obliged to cooperate fully with the Court's investigations and prosecutions. Furthermore, the resolutions of the Security Council referring the situations in Darfur, Sudan and Libya to the Prosecutor had imposed an obligation on the two States in question to cooperate fully with the Court in the context of those situations and urged all other States to do so. "Cooperation from all States, parties and non-parties is essential to enable impartial and effective investigations," she said, adding that access to crime scenes and all relevant evidence, victims and witnesses was critical to the process of justice. In that regard, it was of great concern that requests for arrest and transfer issued by the Court remained outstanding with respect to 13 individuals, some for more than a decade.

Describing efforts to improve the Court's efficiency and effectiveness, she went on to welcome El Salvador as the newest member of the body's States Parties as well as Samoa in its accession to the Agreement on the Privileges and Immunities of the Court. Over the reporting period, six States had ratified the Kampala amendments to Article 8 of the Rome Statute, and eight States had ratified the amendments on the Crime of Aggression, bringing the total number of ratifications for both amendments to 32. In June 2017, the amendment on the crime of aggression would enter into force for 30 States.

Turning to the recent announcements of withdrawals from the Rome Statute, she said that the last two decades had witnessed huge progress in the consolidation of international criminal justice as a fundamental part of the international community's response to conflicts and mass atrocities. "In creating the Court as a permanent and independent judicial institution, States recognized the link between justice, peace and sustainable development, and reaffirmed their commitment to fight impunity," she said, emphasizing that the Court had not been created to replace or compete with States. On the contrary, States had the duty and the right to investigate and prosecute crimes themselves in the first place, and the Court's role was to provide justice only when States had failed to do so.

Noting that the body had given a voice to victims and made strides in addressing crimes such as the use of child soldiers, sexual violence in conflict attacks on civilians and the destruction of cultural property, and that its Trust Fund for Victims had assisted more than 300,000 victims with physical and psychological rehabilitation and material support, she concluded that strong support for the Court and States' enlarged participation in the Rome Statute were essential to the Court's effective functioning.

Statements

JOA�O VALE DE ALMEIDA, of the European Union, said that the Union was a strong supporter of the Court, which had given hope to millions of victims of atrocity crimes. Peace and justice were complementary and not mutually exclusive, and the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes was critical to ensure a fair and just society. The Union regretted the decisions by South Africa and Burundi to withdraw from the Rome Statute, as well as Gambia's announcement of its intention to do so, and invited those States to reconsider. "What was right in 1998 is still right: the world needs the ICC, and the ICC needs all countries to support it," he said.

Primary responsibility for bringing offenders to justice lay with States themselves, he said. The Court was facing an increasing workload, and was now conducting preliminary examinations in most regions of the world, including Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. The universality of the Rome Statute was essential, and the Union would continue to work tirelessly to make the Statute universal. It welcomed the decision by El Salvador to deposit its instrument of accession. The Union encouraged the Security Council to find ways to improve implementation of obligations created by its two referrals, concerning situations in Darfur and Libya, and encouraged all States to cooperate with the Court.

PENNELOPE ALTHEA BECKLES (Trinidad and Tobago), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that notwithstanding its many challenges, the Court continued to be a beacon of hope to victims of crimes who were seeking justice. Those included thousands of women and children who were often the ones most affected by the actions of criminals who showed blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life. Noting that the Trust Fund for Victims provided more than 300,000 victims with psychological and physical rehabilitation as well as material support, she also recognized the Court's important role in promoting the rule of law and encouraging respect for human rights. In order for the Court to be better able to effectively discharge its mandate, universality of the Rome Statute was critical, she said, urging States which had not yet done so to take necessary steps to ratify and fully implement the Statute.

No individual or State should fear the Court as it was a court of last resort, she said. States must honour their legally binding obligations to the Court in the execution of outstanding arrest warrants. Those who failed to cooperate with the Court to bring criminals to justice were contributing to a culture of impunity that not only undermined the rule of law, but also served as an affront to victims of grave crimes. She remained concerned over the unprecedented workload of the Court, with four cases simultaneously at trial and several at other stages of proceedings. To that end, the Court must be provided with the necessary resources to properly discharge its mandate.

IB PETERSEN (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, noted that the Court was currently seized of 23 cases and 10 country situations, which was unprecedented in terms of numbers and geographical scope in the history of the Court. Holding to account perpetrators and ensuring justice for victims of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community were principles shared by States of all parts of the world. Stressing the importance of full cooperation by States, he said that it was a cause of concern that the number of outstanding arrest warrants, at 13, remained high. "The Court's promise of justice for the victims goes together with the reach of its jurisdiction," he said, emphasizing that the Nordic countries deeply regretted recent decisions of States Parties to withdraw from the Rome Statute.

States affected by genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes might at times need capacity support to initiate investigations and conduct criminal proceedings, he said. States Parties could also benefit from the knowledge and expertise of the Court. Enhanced cooperation between the Court and the Security Council was essential, particularly in cases of non-cooperation with the Court, as well as for strengthened follow-up of cases referred. The Nordic Countries deeply regretted that the Council had been unable to refer the Syrian situation to the Court, and strongly urged the Council to continue efforts to refer the case. All those responsible for war crimes and other serious international crimes must be held accountable, he stressed. Justice must also be ensured for victims of mass atrocities in Iraq. To that end, it was important for Iraq to accede to the Rome Statute.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said that support for the Court, particularly from the Security Council, was especially important. It was also essential that Council referrals were accompanied by the Council's clear demonstration of ongoing political support in order to maximize States' cooperation with the Court. That would also help minimize any possible perception that the Court was subject to the Council's shifting political dynamics. The Court's mandate was inherently political; its job was to hold to account those most responsible, who all too often were among those most powerful. Australia accepted the reality that the Court's mandate was likely to mean that it would always have more than its fair share of critics. While recognizing that membership of any international treaty was a sovereign decision, she encouraged those States Parties who had indicated their intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute to reconsider their decision. She also called on those who had not done so to ratify the Rome Statute in order to send a clear and universal message to would-be perpetrators.

JARG LAUBER (Switzerland), stressed that the Court had been created for the victims of the most serious crimes and that it worked neither for the benefit of certain States or regions nor for their detriment, calling the body "the centrepiece of the fight against impunity". While the Rome Statute system was a voluntary one, the decisions of States to join it or not to join it bore consequences. Indeed, the decisions of South Africa, Burundi and Gambia to withdraw from the Rome Statute sent a troubling signal. "If anything, the multiplication of horrendous crimes around the globe should prompt us all to engage more thoroughly in the fight against impunity, and certainly not to reduce the commitment," he said, adding that some States rejected the Court precisely because it successfully executed its mandate. Calling on States Parties to uphold the key principles required for the Court's work, he went on to deplore the Security Council's lack of action in relation to the complete impunity in Syria. Recalling that a 2014 draft resolution aimed at referring the situation in that country to the Court had not passed, he emphasized that a veto should never be used against a resolution addressing international crimes, be it in Syria or elsewhere.

TOMOHIRO MIKANAGI (Japan) said that Japan's core policy towards the Court was to help it to function effectively and sustainably. Japan was the Court's largest financial contributor and was dedicated to supporting the body through capable human resources. The Court had made steady progress in the judicial field, and efforts to enhance its efficiency could help mitigate its unprecedented workload. It was vital for the Court to have the cooperation of States Parties, including in cases of a Security Council referral. Japan strongly believed that more countries should join the Court, and was worried about recent decisions by some African States to withdraw. In order to gain support and cooperation from a greater number of States towards its activities, the Court and its State Parties needed to listen to the concerns expressed by a wider audience.

VALERIE BIDEN OWENS (United States) stressed that ending impunity for mass atrocities was both a moral imperative and a stabilizing force in international affairs. Welcoming the Court's work over the previous year, as well as positive steps taken by a number of countries in the pursuit of justice within their domestic systems, she nevertheless expressed alarm at the continuing suffering in far too many situations around the world where victims of mass atrocities still had not seen a sufficient response to their calls for justice. "We must remain vigilant and steady in our march toward a world increasingly intolerant of impunity," she said in that regard. The Court could not grapple with every mass atrocity situation in the world, and even when it was involved, the Court would be able to address a small handful of cases at most. It would therefore be important for the Court to ensure that its choices were guided by justice, rigour, fairness and care, she said, urging the international community to ensure that the Court was able to remain focused on its core mandate of addressing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. In that regard, she expressed her delegation's serious concerns about the Rome Statute amendments on the crime of aggression adopted in Kampala, emphasizing that the activation of such amendments should be preceded by concrete steps to provide greater clarity regarding conduct and which States would be covered by them.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand), while noting some positive milestones for the Court, said, "We should not shy away in our annual debate this year from the significant, very recent developments that confront us." The Court and States Parties must be more open to constructive dialogue and engagement between the Court, Member States, the United Nations and regional organizations, including the African Union. He expressed disappointment that Burundi, South Africa and Gambia had taken the decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute. "We hope that in the time that remains before these decisions take effect, there is room for meaningful dialogue on a potential resolution," he added. The Court was the creation of a diplomatic process and that was what was required to address the challenges it was now facing. States Parties to the Rome Statute must more meaningfully engage in order to acknowledge and address the underlying concerns. States Parties must also create conditions necessary for a dialogue that was open, honest, respectful and focused on the common goal of ending impunity. It also remained imperative to continue to strengthen the working relationships between the Court and the United Nations at all levels. When the Security Council referred a situation to the Court, it should do so with a clear commitment to follow up.

STEFAN RACOVITA (Romania), associating himself with the European Union, welcomed the Court's move to the new permanent premises, calling it an important milestone. Commending El Salvador for depositing the instruments of accession to the Rome Statute, he voiced concern about decisions and intentions of withdrawal from the Rome Statute expressed by several States parties. While fully acknowledging that withdrawal from an international treaty was a sovereign act, Romania encouraged those States to reconsider their position. Giving up the Statute would send the wrong message to civil society - and to victims in particular - that accountability counted less. The Court was also facing another challenge in the form of non-cooperation regarding the execution of arrest warrants. Furthermore, the high-level regional seminar organized in Bucharest in March 2016, which brought together government representatives from approximately 20 countries, had covered a number of important issues, including witness protection, State cooperation during investigations, national capacity-building, and the benefits of joining the Rome Statute system.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, expressed concern about recent decisions and announcements of withdrawals from the Rome Statute, which represented a cornerstone in the fight against impunity and the establishment of an age of accountability. Any issues pertaining to the functioning of the Statute system could be addressed in the Assembly of States Parties, which was the proper and appropriate platform for addressing any concern regarding the Statute's implementation. The focus must remain on the victims of international crimes. He called on all States Parties to remain committed to the Rome Statute and to all States to contribute to the prevention and punishment of such crimes.

CRISTIA�N BARROS MELET (Chile) said that his Government had deposited the instrument of ratification of the Kampala Amendments on 23 September, and had been working to ensure that after 1 January 2017, necessary decisions would be taken to activate the jurisdiction of the Court over crimes of aggression. The Government was also in the process of integrating relevant legal changes to include the crime of aggression into Chilean criminal law and to extend the war crimes mentioned in the Kampala Amendments to non-international conflicts. Chile reiterated the importance of ensuring that the Court had the financial resources required to fulfil its mandate and the need for the Security Council to follow up on cases that it referred to the Court, paying special attention to the situation created by the lack of cooperation from States.

MICHAEL GRANT (Canada) said the Court had witnessed both accomplishments and challenges over the past year. The historic guilty plea and conviction of Mr. Al Mahdi for war crimes relating to the destruction of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-protected shrines in Timbuktu would have been impossible without the cooperation of Niger and Mali. However, there were also instances of non-cooperation, especially by State parties to the Rome Statute. He noted that warrants issued years ago had remained unexecuted, encouraging all States to abide by their international commitments. Expressing concern at the recent decisions by Gambia, Burundi and South Africa to withdraw from the Court, he stressed that all victims, including Africans, had the right to justice. African States had played an important role in establishing the Court, and their steadfast support was more important than ever in the fight against impunity.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), associating himself with the statement made by the European Union delegation, said that accountability was important not only for the sake of the past, but to build a future free of violence. In that context, he regretted recent decisions of some Member States to leave the jurisdiction of the Court. Effective and comprehensive cooperation and assistance by States were indispensable for the Court to carry out its activities successfully. Georgia had been cooperating with the Court in the case of examining the 2008 war in Georgia. Georgia had been a victim of international crimes since the 1990s. At the national level, it had carried out an investigation interviewing over 7,000 witnesses, obtaining 200 forensic expert opinions and carrying out crime scene inspections in over 30 inhabited areas. Where evidence was inaccessible due to the Russian occupation, crime scenes were examined through satellite imagery. The Court's Pre-Trial Chamber had noted that the consistent pattern of deliberate killings, beatings, detention, looting of properties and systematic destruction of Georgian houses and other acts were committed with a view to forcibly expel ethnic Georgians from the territory of South Ossetia. At the current stage, the Special Agreement of Cooperation with the Court had established mechanisms to operationalize and enhance cooperation between the parties and to facilitate investigations and prosecutions within the territory of Georgia.

MICHA? W?CKOWICZ (Poland), concurring with the European Union's statement, said the Court played a crucial role in upholding international expectations that atrocious crimes could not go unpunished. Yet, in line with the principle of complementarity, the primary responsibility for preventing the most serious crimes rested with States Parties. With the Court as a cornerstone, Poland encouraged widespread membership to the Rome Statute as it should help end the most serious crimes under international law, no matter where they were committed. Poland highly valued the African States' engagement in discussions on the international system of justice. The fact that African countries made up the largest United Nations regional group among States Parties to the Statute showed their commitment to the fight against the most serious crimes of international law. Poland regretted some countries' decisions to withdraw from the Statute and hoped they would reconsider their positions. The persistent increase in the Courts' effectiveness was vital to the process of fighting impunity for the gravest crimes under international law. Poland reiterated support for the Court as a widely recognized court capable of carrying out effective proceedings and helping to maintain peace around the world. Stability, along with efficient use of its resources, was crucial to dispense justice expeditiously. The Court's new permanent premises should provide progress in that area.

OMER DAHAB FADL MOHAMED (Sudan), underscoring his country's commitment to the underlying principles of the United Nations - including States' rights to sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity - stressed that the noble fight against impunity should not be subject to politicization. Indeed, he said, attempts to turn international justice into a platform for some States to carry out their own objectives violated the principles of international law and contributed to tension between States. Emphasizing the importance of maintaining the independence between the United Nations and the Court, he warned of attempts by some States to introduce vague interpretations into the Assembly's annual resolution on the Court's work.

Calling the body a "political tool" aimed at targeting Africa's leaders and asking why it continued to turn a blind eye to crimes occurring in other parts of the world, he said the relationship between the Court and the Security Council was a "flagrant form of politicization". Sudan was far from the only country that had raised concerns about the impact of voluntary contributions on the Court's work, he said, stressing that the States whose contributions made up more than 50 per cent of the Court's budget were turning the body into an instrument of their own foreign policy. "The Court had given rise to a contradiction between justice and peace," he said, calling for an end to the political calculations which were staining the body's reputation.

JUAN JOSE RUDA SANTOLARIA (Peru), reaffirming his country's commitment to the fight against impunity and the Court's work in particular, nevertheless expressed concern that international criminal justice remained an aspiration. As a young instrument, the Court required not only support from States Parties but from all the United Nations Member States. Supporting efforts to streamline the Court's work and make it more effective - as long as they did not undermine due process or the rights of victims - he also emphasized the need for Security Council reform, especially the use of the veto power. Recalling that the Council had been unable to respond in a number of cases of mass atrocities, he expressed Peru's support for initiatives put forward by France and the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group to bar the use of the veto in such situations.

ANET PINO RIVERO (Cuba) said the current international situation demonstrated the need for an independent judicial institution. Referrals made by the Security Council confirmed a negative trend of continuously and unfairly attacking developing countries. The Court must not be subservient to political interests that destroy its objectivity. It was regrettable that crimes committed by powers of the Security Council were exempt from prosecution. The Court could not ignore international treaties and must continue to be bound to international agreements. She reiterated serious concern for the precedent of decisions to initiate legal proceedings of nationals of States who were not party to the Rome Statute. The Statute was never intended to replace national jurisdiction. Rather, it must serve to be complementary to national judicial systems. Cuba had been victim to aggression, and yet the definition of the aggression as a crime failed to address all forms of aggression. Aggression was not only the use of armed force. Other types of aggression also affected national sovereignty and the political independence of States. Cuba reaffirmed its will to combat immunity.

LOURDES ORTIZ YPARRAGUIRRE (Philippines) said that without peace based on justice, realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would be compromised. That individuals could be held accountable for international crimes had been a defining achievement in international law. The goal was universality, she said, calling for more countries to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute, particularly from the Asia-Pacific region. Whether States Parties or not, it was important to help each other protect human rights and build domestic capacities, including through human resource development-related assistance like the training of judges, prosecutors, police and the military. The five permanent Security Council members should refrain from using their veto in situations involving mass atrocity crimes under the jurisdiction of the Court. For that reason, the Philippines supported the code of conduct for Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. She also called on the Security Council to take the necessary follow-up measures on situations it had referred to the Court, so as to uphold the credibility of both institutions and to ensure accountability.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said that the recent decisions of South Africa and Burundi to leave the Court came at a strange moment, as the Court had made significant progress in its judicial work and was looked to dispense justice all around the world. With all the difficulties the Court had yet to overcome, it was safe to say that the Rome Statute itself had proven its value and worth since its entry into force. However, a Court with the mandate to adjudicate the most serious crimes and to do so with a policy of seeking accountability for those with the largest share of responsibility was bound to come under political pressure. "This is why the almost two thirds of the United Nations membership who have joined the Court are asked to stand up for it," he said. That was not to say that everything was perfect. Much could be done to make the Court's proceedings better and more efficient. Nowhere had the Security Council's inability to provide accountability been more apparent than in Syria. The proposal to refer the situation to the Court was vetoed in 2014, and the Council had since "fallen silent" on the issue.

NICHOLAS EMILIOU (Cyprus), associating himself with the European Union's statement, said that the destruction of cultural heritage in any country constituted a collective loss for humanity. The recent Court judgement underscored that the international community remained vigilant in holding accountable those responsible for such war crimes. While in the case of Al Mahdi the Court was able to address the destruction of cultural property in Mali, in other instances it had not been able to address similar events. Universal ratification of the Rome Statute remained the only realistic way of effectively addressing jurisdictional gaps and thereby current challenges and shortcomings. The wide number of ratifications demonstrated a commitment by a majority of countries to ensure accountability for international crimes, yet the Court was currently facing its biggest crisis ever. "At this critical juncture, and as the Court remains the crucial court of last resort, it is on us, Member States more so, to work tirelessly to maintain its deserved global recognition, to further strengthen and support it," he said. While recognizing that withdrawing from the Statute was a sovereign act, he called on countries to reconsider and to share their concerns before the Assembly of States Parties. To abandon the Court was to assist in widening the scope where international justice could not reach.

ABDOULAYE BARRO (Senegal) said that with a record of taking on four trials simultaneously, the Court had made great strides, especially with the case that led to a conviction. Such outcomes made people feel like their voices had been heard. Success stories led the international community to believe that "slowly but surely" universality of international criminal justice was within reach. Strengthening the relationship between Africa and the Court should be of highest priority, especially at a time when States Parties announced their decision to withdrawal from the Rome Statute. "Senegal still hopes that a dynamic consensus could be found so that Africa could play a major role against impunity," he said. The needs of victims cannot be disregarded in the "era of accountability". Senegal remained convinced that dialogue and unity would be preserved. In that regard, the Assembly of States Parties would remain an instrument where parties could voice their concerns. The Court remained the only recourse for victims of grave crimes when their right to justice was not carried out on the spot. The international community's support was essential for the efficiency of the Court's work. The universal ratification of the Statute must become a reality in order for victims everywhere to obtain justice. National judicial systems must also be strengthened to contribute to the international criminal justice system.

TIWATOPE ADELEYE ELIAS-FATILE (Nigeria) said the large number of referrals entrusted to the Court indicated the increasing acknowledgement of its relevance as an apt instrument to fight impunity. Nigeria also welcomed improved cooperation between the Court and the main bodies of the United Nations, especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, as well as peacekeeping missions. Welcoming the exchange of information between the Libyan Prosecutor-General's office and Office of the Prosecutor of the Court, he commended Libya for its cooperation and encouraged all sides to work together to end impunity in Libya. As a committed member of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, Nigeria reiterated its continuous commitment to support and cooperate with the Court. Impunity must be addressed wherever it occurred in the world. For that reason, Nigeria would remain faithfully committed to the fundamental values of the Statute and to the ideals of the Court. Nigeria was also prepared and open to continuing to work with Member States to address concerns raised against the Court.

CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil) said that as a proud founder of the Court, Brazil remained steadfast to the Rome Statute system and the cause of justice that motivated its creation. Brazil was pleased to recall not only that all South American countries were parties to the Statute, but also that Latin American and Caribbean States represented the second-largest regional group among States Parties. It was important to stress that a misperception of selectivity regarding the Court's activity would only be definitively dispelled by advancing the universality of the Statute, expanding, rather than shrinking, its room to operate. Brazil noted that providing justice for victims remained an essential component in the Court's daily work and welcomed that reparation procedures were ongoing in four different cases and the Trust Fund for Victims had already helped more than 300,000 persons with physical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as with material support. On the Court's unprecedented level of activity, Brazil recalled its concern regarding the financing of Security Council referrals. It was an issue of a structural nature that went to the core of relations between the Court and the United Nations, particularly the Assembly.

GEORGINA GUILLA�N-GRILLO (Costa Rica) said the Court was the single most important achievement of the international justice system. She celebrated the aspirations of El Salvador, which became a State Party on 3 March, and was the first State to adhere to the Rome Statute since the ratification of Article 8 and the Crimes of Aggression. Costa Rica was alarmed by any rejection of the Rome Statute by any State Party, since such decisions only harmed victims. Nothing should cause States to turn their back on those who suffered crimes. Costa Rica welcomed the results achieved by the Trust Fund for Victims and its local partners, which provided assistance to more than 300,000 victims in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as material support to survivors. State Parties had to comply with their responsibilities, she said, adding that States were ignoring cases that were referred to the Court by Governments. It would be inconsistent that State Prosecutors should reject referrals simply to maintain a geographical balance. The United Nations had to participate in the financing of cases referred by the Security Council and help it fulfil its mandated. She stressed Costa Rica's full backing of the Court and compliance with international law.

ANDREJ LOGAR (Slovenia) noted an unprecedented increase in the workload of the Court, which was engaged in 10 preliminary examinations in nearly every region of the world. He regretted recent decisions by Burundi and South Africa to withdraw from the Court and Gambia's announcement of its intention to withdraw, and hoped those countries would reconsider. His country stood ready to engage constructively on concerns States might have over the Court's functioning. He highlighted three key areas of importance: universality, where he welcomed the accession of El Salvador and invited other States to join; complementarity, noting that the Court was a body of last resort and acted only when States were unwilling or incapable of prosecuting atrocity crimes; and international cooperation with the Court, which was an obligation for States under the Rome Statute.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh), expressing concern over the decision by certain States Parties to withdraw from the Statute, urged both sides of the debate to exercise restraint in their actions and rhetoric, and to refrain from overtly politicizing the cause of international criminal justice epitomized by the Court. Bangladesh would continue to advocate for the Court's contributions to strengthening national jurisdictions in the shared pursuit of fighting impunity. It was also critical that the varied contexts in national jurisdictions be borne in mind. It was somewhat unfortunate that while least developed countries constituted 21 per cent of States Parties and accounted for most of the major conflict and post-conflict settings around the world, their share in the Court's internship and professional visit programmes had been quite minimal. That trend did not augur well for the critical importance of promoting transnational justice in post-conflict settings. As a leading contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations, Bangladesh would continue to extend necessary cooperation to the Court in areas where peacekeepers and military observers were deployed. It also attached great importance to addressing sexual and gender-based violence during armed conflicts and ensuring justice for such crimes.

TUVAKO NATHANIEL MANONGI (United Republic of Tanzania) said that humanitarian tragedies had brought so much misery and affliction to Africa that the establishment of the Court had been an inspiration against impunity and injustice. While the Court was still relevant today, the United Republic of Tanzania noted that it had endured a particularly tumultuous relationship with Africa. It was a relationship that had "engendered fear of an African exodus from the Court", he said, adding that need not be the case as the Court had been the primary foundation for the African Union's Agenda 2063. Indeed, it was a concern that African countries had come to be critical of the Court to the degree that the policy of non-cooperation had become a real possibility, he said, stressing that for it to remain a credible institution, there must be confidence-building measures on its functions and interactions with members. "All too often avoidable misunderstandings when left unattended or dismissed as inconsequential grow into regrettable outcomes. Lectures and claims of high moral ground from outside the continent are unhelpful," he warned. It was of great concern that some permanent members of the Security Council could use their position to refer a matter to the Court while they themselves were not parties to the Rome Statute.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said current global circumstances added demand on the Court as it sought to fulfil its mandate. A lack of cooperation in areas such as arrest warrants undermined the purposes of the system of international criminal justice. Support in action and carrying out decisions were crucial to the proper operation of the Court. Member States had to implement decisions of the Security Council as well as cooperate on cases referred to the Council by the Court. The Council also had a responsibility to cooperate with the Court as accountability was a basic element of justice. He regretted that the Council had been unable to refer the case of Syria to the Court. Mexico had been promoting an initiative whereby Council members would refrain from using the veto in cases where crimes against humanity may have or had occurred. The United Nations was the best setting for capacity-building activities. Meanwhile, the Court should focus on fulfilling its mandate as outlined in the Rome Statute. He expressed concern of some States Parties withdrawing from the Statute and welcomed a broader discourse. The goal was to uphold the spirit of ending impunity.

LI YONGSHENG (China) said that his country always attached importance to international criminal justice bodies in punishing serious crimes and participated as an observer State while expressing its views and concerns. There were a number of African countries that had announced "one after another" that they would withdraw from the Statute. It was understandable, he said, emphasizing that the Court was faced with increasing criticism and opposition. States must bear the primary responsibility for delivering justice. The Court was complementary to that and must avoid becoming a tool for other countries to seek political objectives. The original intent of the Court was a question that deserved serious attention. The Security Council had the exclusive power to determine what constituted a crime of aggression, he reiterated, while at the same time expressing support for the efforts of the international community in punishing serious international crime. The Court must ensure that upholding international justice was conducive to promoting reconciliation on a national level as well.

KAREL VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said he was committed to the fight against impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and that the imperative to domestically investigate and prosecute those crimes was a key principle of all States' legal obligations. On current challenges, he noted that addressing any shortcomings of the Court could be best done as a State Party at the Assembly of State Parties, as what was needed was dialogue with other State Parties and not withdrawal. With regard to the universalization of the Court, he called on all State Parties to reiterate their support for a strong international criminal justice system. He also urged all States who were not yet a State Party to the Rome Statute to ratify that treaty.

MARTA�N GARCA�A MORITA�N (Argentina) said the Court, through its laudable activities over the past year, had again demonstrated its role as a cornerstone of the rule of law at the international level. Welcoming ratifications of the Kampala Amendments on the crimes of aggression, he renewed his country's unwavering commitment to the Rome Statute as well as to addressing problems that might arise in the Statute system. Appealing to all States Parties to take into account the Court's unique nature, and to ensure its appropriate funding, he said the relationship between the Court and the United Nations was critical. Indeed, that relationship was shaped by the Security Council, which had the right to refer cases to the Court. Until now, the financial cost of referrals made to the Court had been borne exclusively by States Parties; however, those costs should be borne by the United Nations as a whole. The fight against impunity was an objective and goal of the Organization and must be furnished by a firmer commitment.

JOSA� MARTA�N Y PA�REZ DE NANCLARES (Spain), associating himself with the European Union, said the fight against impunity was a binding requirement of international law and dispensing justice to victims was a universal goal that could not be renounced. Spain had been an ardent defender of the Court's role against impunity, he said, recalling that it had also been among the first countries to deposit its instruments of ratification of the Kampala Amendments. Welcoming the work accomplished by the Court over the past year, and noting that the body had found its "proper cruising speed", he nevertheless expressed concern that for the first time, three States had announced that they would withdraw from the Rome Statute. Expressing regret over that critical turn of events and at its potential fallout, he urged the international community to build bridges instead of engaging in finger-pointing, and joined others in calling on South Africa, Burundi and Gambia to reconsider their decisions to withdraw.

HAHN CHOONGHEE (Republic of Korea), noting that 14 years had passed since the Court had first been established, recognized how the Rome Statute reinforced the United Nations Charter, and how the Court played a major role in maintaining peace and security and promoting human rights. He supported ongoing cooperation between the Court and the United Nations, and noted "precedent setting" decisions. While progress made in the path of ending impunity was encouraging, the Court had also faced "harsh realities" and had to rise above considerable challenges to firmly establish itself as a robust institution that delivers criminal justice. He welcomed the Court streamlining its work and said that that was conducive to enhancing its functioning and garnering strength, support and trust from States Parties. As an international Court, it could not sustain itself without support from States Parties at each and every level for its proper functioning. Against that backdrop, it was regrettable that the Court had suffered from insufficient cooperation. It was encouraging that States Parties were making efforts to deal with issues of non-cooperation. The increase in number of State Parties to the Rome Statute was encouraging. However, it was also disconcerting that in the past weeks, several States Parties had withdrawn from the Statute. He called on those Parties to reconsider their decision and welcomed them to voice their concerns.

TOM AMOLO (Kenya) expressed concern about the dismal output of tangible results from the Court, saying that "clearly something is deeply wrong." With only one new accession during the reporting period, it was clear that the Court continued to enjoy membership and support only from a small segment of countries in the world. The international community was saddled with a judicial body that had lower thresholds and standards than those found in national courts. In paragraphs 49 and 50, the report mentioned ongoing investigations into the situation in Kenya. However, the integrity of those investigations had been called into question owing to the revelations that witnesses were procured with promises of reward. Further, during the reporting period, 2,571 victims were admitted to participate in the proceedings before the Court, even while the issue of admitting them remained a likely avenue for abuse since adequate measures were not in place to ensure that only genuine victims and witnesses were included in the proceedings.

IHOR YAREMENKO (Ukraine) said the Court was the only permanent global judicial body established to end impunity for perpetrators of the most serious crimes of international concern. Thus, the Court contributed to the prevention of such offenses as well as the progressive development of international criminal law. The international community particularly needed the Court's capacity to fully exercise its deterring role, as Ukraine was affected by the hostile and aggressive actions of the Russian Federation. Thousands of military personnel and civilians, including women and children, had gone missing, and there were now more than a million internally displaced persons. In that regard, Ukraine could not overestimate the cooperation of States in combatting serious crimes. Noting that the Rome Statute provisions on the complementarity of the Court had contradicted Ukraine's Constitution, he said his country's Parliament had recently adopted a constitutional amendment that would let it eventually ratify the Rome Statute. The elaboration on the implementation legislation was actively on its way. Ukraine was particularly concerned with several African countries' recent withdrawal from the Statute. Ukraine believed the international community had to remain united to face the enormous challenges of preventing the most serious crimes and prosecuting the alleged perpetrators, whoever they are and wherever they are, so as to ensure world peace, stability and security.

ALBERT SHINGIRO (Burundi) said that his delegation believed that international justice should not be subjected to political calculations. Since the entry into force and ratification of the Rome Statute, the international community had seen the highs and lows of its workings. In spite of its efforts, the Court had not lived up to its core principles of impartiality and independence. The international community should not be surprised to see a large number of States calling into question the impartiality of the Court, and the public in Africa had found that the judicial body was in the hands of a number of powerful countries. The Court had been at the service of certain States to serve certain purposes targeting Africa in particular, and that had compelled Burundi to withdraw from it through a decision in the two chambers of its Parliament. Any commitments by individual countries to the Court were part of a sovereign decision, and should not give rise to so many comments from Member States, he said, highlighting that Burundi pursued with conviction the principles of impartiality and non-politicization of international principles. As long as those principles were not adhered to and partiality prevailed, the Court would be flawed. A structural reform of the Court would mean that States would not have any choice but to adhere to principles of non-partiality and non-interference.

ISAA�AS ARTURO MEDINA MEJA�AS (Venezuela) said his country, as a State Party to the Court, had championed and supported the strengthening of its operations. Venezuela also urged the universalization of the Rome Statute with the goal of strengthening rule of law both nationally and internationally. Cooperation was an essential aspect of the pursuit of the Court's goals. Bound by the principles of autonomy, independence, impartiality, transparency and objectively, all Member States were encouraged to uphold the Rome Statute.

MAXIM V. MUSIKHIN (Russian Federation) said that the Court must take an objective view of the situation and move from romanticism to realism. "We should not try to put pressure on those countries that want to leave the Court," he added, emphasizing that attempts of States to be heard and their will to make amendments had been disregarded. The statements made by Georgia and Ukraine were clear examples of the hypocritical use of the Court. With regard to the situation in Ukraine, he brought attention to human rights violations carried out by Ukrainian armed forces, including electric shock treatments and other forms of torture. There were cases of rape as well, including of children. He noted several crimes committed by Ukrainian forces in Mariupol, and expressed concern at the lack of action taken by Ukrainian forces to bring perpetrators to justice. Delegations must take a look at the information and make up their minds on their own.

Right of Reply

The representative of Ukraine, exercising the right of reply, said with regards to the statement made by the Russian Federation, his Government took into serious consideration any cases of human rights violations, including those that had allegedly been carried out by his country's armed forces. The root cause of the situation, however, was Russian aggression towards Ukraine, which included attacks and crimes committed in the Donbas region. Ukraine had invited the Office for Human Rights to come to Ukraine, offering its assistance to facilitate open and transparent investigations. Meanwhile, the United Nations mission had not been granted access to the occupied territory of Crimea.

The representative of Syria said that previous statements had been politicized and that some Member States had forgotten that a war was still ongoing in his country. Those States had to combat terrorism before coming to the General Assembly expressing that international justice had to be adhered to in Syria. The statements had criticized the withdrawal of some States from the Rome Statute, while it was clear that the Court's mandate had been weakened by increased politicization and the fact that it was in service of big Powers. Some countries had with their right hand signed the Statute, and with their left, proposed immunity to some countries.

Georgia's representative said the Russian Federation had misguided the international community of its actions against neighbouring States. Georgia would continue to cooperate with the Court to examine war crimes and to bring justice to victims.

Source: United Nations.