Nations backing ICC urged to oppose US threats under Trump

Paris-based rights body tells assembly to sharpen performance and avoid being timid

One of the world's oldest human rights organisations has appealed to countries that signed the Rome Statute, which set up the International Criminal Court (ICC), not to be "timid" in defending it against "blatant political threats" by the US and President Donald Trump.

The appeal came from the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) at the opening in The Hague of the Assembly of States Parties, the annual meeting of the 123 countries that support the work of the court and contribute to its annual budget of almost €150 million.

The FIDH intervention follows a series of bad-tempered skirmishes since March when the White House revoked the US travel visa of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in response to her application to investigate possible war crimes by US soldiers and the CIA in Afghanistan after May 1st, 2003.

‘Attacking America’

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo then went further, announcing a new policy of imposing visa restrictions on "individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of US personnel" on the basis that the court was "attacking America's rule of law".

With the question of an investigation in Afghanistan due to be debated at the assembly this week, the FIDH said it anticipated this could be used as a pretext by America to announce additional sanctions against the court or its personnel.

At the same time, the FIDH statement was not uncritical of the ICC itself, observing that its legal performance over the past two years had spurred questions about whether it was reaching “its full potential” in delivering justice.

The FIDH has made five key recommendations it wants the Assembly of States Parties to endorse, several with a sting in the tail.

For instance, while it wants a reaffirmation of support for the ICC, it’s also demanding an independent expert review of the court’s performance to ensure it is “purposeful, transparent and inclusive”.

‘Political considerations’

In that context, it wants the election of six new judges and a new prosecutor to replace Ms Bensouda, whose nine-year term ends in June 2021, to be “transparent” and “based on merit only” – rather than, as it suggests rather unspecifically, “mired in political considerations”.

It also addresses the thorny issue of the court’s budget, which currently stands at €148 million with a total staff of 973, and says the “meagre” increase of 1.8 per cent it has requested must be supported by every country if it’s to meet its 2020 workload.

The “zero nominal growth” budgeting model of recent years, it points out, leaves the court with inadequate means, worsens its performance and damages its ability to realise its mandate.

Less controversially, the FIDH document also proposes the amendment of article 8 of the Rome Statute to include starvation as a war crime in non-international armed conflicts, as proposed by Switzerland.

Although it does not specify where this might be relevant, a UN special envoy warned earlier this week that Zimbabwe is now facing "man-made starvation", with 60 per cent of its population failing to find basic food requirements.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court