Top lawyer warns withdrawal of countries and limiting of funding threaten future of tribunal – and entire post-1945 settlement
Six months after the international criminal court’s new Dutch palace of justice was formally opened on windswept sand dunes beside the North Sea, a tide of nationalist sentiment is threatening to undermine the project.
Three African states have begun withdrawing from its jurisdiction, raising fears that a succession of others will follow suit. Russia has removed its signature from the founding statute, the Philippines and Kenya are openly contemplating departure and key member nations – including the UK – have limited its funding.
The tribunal embodies international efforts to prosecute those responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but in 2017 it will face serious challenges to its credibility, insiders say.
Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and derogations from the European convention on human rights all represent a common theme of emphasising national interests over international – usually stigmatised as “foreign” – laws.
The most immediate threat is the move by Burundi, South Africa and the Gambia, which in the last quarter of 2016 have all served notice of intention to withdraw, citing complaints that ICC prosecutions focus excessively on the African continent.
Their exits, which will come into force a year after they served notice, will leave 121 member states that have ratified the 1998 Rome statute. China, the US, India, Russia, Indonesia and Israel are among those who have refused membership
Fatou Bensouda at The Hague
Efforts are being made to reverse the departure of the Gambia, which is home to the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Speaking after the court’s annual assembly of state parties in The Hague in November, she acknowledged: “It’s a regression for the continent that there are some African states that are deciding to withdraw from the ICC.”
The ICC encourages countries, she stressed, to try cases in their own courts as a first option. “The ICC was not meant to take each and every case,” Bensouda said. “There must be national efforts, there must be regional efforts that are also trying to bridge the impunity gap.”
Bensouda urged support for the court’s proposed 7% increase in its annual budget of just over €۱۴۷m. There was, however, concerted resistance to the plans even from normally supportive states, which pared it back to 3%.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both criticised resistance by the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and other countries to the increase on the grounds of the global financial crisis and inefficiencies in the court. “The goodwill of even the strongest champions of international justice to support and fund the ICC cannot be taken for granted when their financial interests are affected,” th