This week more than a thousand delegates are converging on the Ugandan capital, Kampala, for a crucial meeting to review the performance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) eight years into its existence. The delegates will also consider making amendments to the Rome Statute that established the court.
The ICC matters, not least because it is the sole independent permanent court with the mandate to try genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Already, 111 states are parties to the Rome Statute, and the court has three trials underway.
But critics say that for its €100 million a year budget, the ICC needs to have more to show. Besides, they point to the court’s inability to finalize a single trial thus far. The ICC’s first trial, of former Congolese leader Thomas Lubanga, started in January 2009 and is expected to end later this year.
Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, president of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, defends the court’s record, pointing to systems it has created and the support it has garnered from states parties.
“The Court is yet to conclude a trial, and we as states would have sometimes wished that proceedings are faster and more efficient,” he said in an interview with journalists this week. “But most importantly, this Court has made it clear that there is no longer impunity for the most atrocious crimes under international law. Justice is an inherent part of all discussions on international relations now.”
And so lined up for the ICC Review Conference in Kampala is an agenda lasting two weeks. Besides the mainstream program, several civil society organizations have organized side activities on various issues on the conference agenda—and even some that are not. The gathering is taking place at Speke Commonwealth Resort on the shores of Lake Victoria, from May 31 to June 11.
To kick off the conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will feature in an exhibition soccer match, along with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and victims of armed conflict from various countries. Among the spectators will be hundreds of victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, whose decades of insurgency killed hundreds of Ugandans and displaced more than a million others.
How the ICC has worked with victims will indeed be one of the issues the conference will audit. The Open Society Justice Initiative, together with the Human Rights Center at the University of California at Berkeley, will host a side panel to highlight innovative approaches to outreach to victims and affected communities.
The role of civil society organizations in the development of the ICC is also on the stock-taking agenda, as is the issue of cooperation of states in the arrest of indictees and implementing the Rome Statute at national level.
Cooperation has been a major challenge: the ICC has an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al Bashir, but several African and Arab leaders won’t honor it. Similarly, former Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda, and Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and some of his lieutenants have had arrest warrants on their heads for years but remain at large.
But most debate is expected to center on the addition of provisions that would allow the ICC to exercise its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. Some say this would represent a significant step forward in the development of international law and an important extension of the court’s jurisdiction.
Others contend that the ICC is still a young court which needs to grow its capacity to deal with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity before more is added to its already thick docket. These critics also argue that the ICC would become politicized if it were to now handle the crime of aggression as well.
In the lead-up to the conference, what the delegates arriving in Uganda seem to be agreed on is that this is a landmark event whose outcome will shape the ICC and international criminal justice for several years to come.