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Human Rights Group Calls for Stronger International Criminal Court

  • Michael Onyiego

The Human Rights Watch group is calling for a strengthened commitment to international justice at a conference that begins later this month in Uganda.

In a report entitled "Making Kampala Count" New York-based Human Rights Watch is urging countries sending representatives to the Review Conference of the Rome Statute in Uganda to pledge support for the International Criminal Court and ensure perpetrators of crimes against humanity are held to account.

The Rome Statute is the governing treaty of the International Criminal Court adopted in 1998 in an effort to prevent and punish crimes against humanity, such as genocide.

The conference is to evaluate four key themes of the court's work: peace and justice, strengthening national courts, the ICC's impact on affected communities and state cooperation.

A counsel for the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, Elizabeth Evenson, says the discussions could have a real impact on the court's mission. "This is the first-ever review conference for the ICC and so it means it will be an exceptional gathering of states that belong to the ICC, civil society and the international community more broadly interested in advancing the global fight against impunity. We think that the discussion that will be had in Kampala, over the two weeks of the conference, can make a real concrete difference in strengthening the fight against impunity, in consolidating the progress of the ICC and taking that fight forward," she said.

The pledges that states make to support the ICC will be crucial measures of the court's effectiveness. The ICC mandate is limited to crimes against humanity, and because the court does not employ police to enforce its decisions, it relies on state cooperation to implement justice.

The Kampala conference is also to address the court's role in crimes of aggression, when states engage in conflict that violates the U.N. charter. The conference will attempt to define crimes of aggression and whether to allow the International Criminal Court to determine the legality of specific military engagements.

Human Rights Watch says it is strongly opposed to proposals to create a jurisdictional filter on crimes of aggression, through which the U.N. Security Council would decide which cases the ICC could pursue.

Evenson says such a restriction would greatly damage the legitimacy of the court. "We think that this would compromise the court's jurisdiction," she said. "There is already a way in which the Security Council can refer cases to the ICC, but this would be slightly different because it would give exclusive control over one of the crimes to the Security Council, which is obviously a highly politicized body."

The two-week Review Conference of the Rome Statute begin May 31st in the Ugandan capital.

The ICC treaty has been adopted by 111 states, including 30 from Africa. The International Criminal Court has investigated five cases since 2002, all on the African continent, and has been accused by some of applying a double standard to developing nations, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

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