ETHIOPIA: AU ignores states body in anti-ICC crusade

African-UnionAlthough the International Criminal Court has been in the news nearly daily in recent weeks in connection with the threat by African member states to withdraw en masse from the Rome Statute, which created the ICC, few people could be aware of the existence of a forum specifically dedicated to address concerns by ICC member states.

The African Union is opposed to the trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta who was indicted by ICC, before his election in March, for crimes against humanity connected to the 2007 post-election violence. Kenyatta and the AU insist that a sitting president should not be tried in court. The ICC says it has no respect for political or other status of a suspect.

And whereas speechmakers at the October 11-12 special summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last weekend lambasted the ICC as a neo-colonial court targeting Africa, nothing was said about what should happen to Africans, other than heads of states and government, who are indicted by the ICC, like Kenyan radio journalist Joshua arap Sang.

But, significantly, the extensive reportage of numerous political and diplomatic initiatives against the ICC has failed to inform the public about one important fact: that there is a specific forum where concerns about the ICC by any member state should be properly addressed. That forum is the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute. Neither Kenya nor the AU seems bothered to raise their concerns at this forum. And nobody is asking why.

Currently 122 States have adhered to the Rome Statute of 1998. Through their accession to the Statute they have voluntarily placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the Court. The 122 States are responsible for the Rome Statute system, and together they constitute the Assembly of States Parties, where each one of them is equally represented and enjoys the same rights.

“The Assembly carries out essential functions for the overall Rome Statute system and constantly evaluates how to improve and refine it,” says Assembly president Tiina Intelmann.

“The Assembly provides a forum to exchange views on issues of concern to States, to consider amendments to the Court’s legal framework, to discuss how to enhance the capacity of national judicial mechanisms and assistance to victims, and much more.

“Indeed, the place of the Court in the overall Rome Statute system is to be the court of last resort, to get involved only when domestic avenues fail. It is by no mistake that we constantly stress the importance of the whole Rome Statue system and not the Court alone.”

As a rule, the Assembly holds one regular session each year. This year the Assembly will convene in The Hague, The Netherlands, from 20 – 28 November 2013.

“In light of the challenges that the Court has faced over the past year, many States Parties have expressed to me their wish to engage and constructively address issues of concern with other States Parties,” says Intelmann.

“For these discussions to be truly comprehensive, it is essential for all States Parties to be represented and ready to engage with one another. I hope that any meetings of the African Union or African States Parties prior to this year’s Assembly session will focus on consolidating suggestions and proposals for consideration by all States Parties at the Assembly session.”

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