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International Criminal Justice

Volume 645: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018

Today is the Day of International Criminal Justice, which provides an opportunity to update Parliament on UK support for the principles and institutions of international criminal justice in the previous calendar year.

The UK maintains that those who commit atrocities should be held to account. As such, support for international criminal justice is a fundamental part of the UK’s foreign policy. Our approach is not limited to punishing the perpetrators—it seeks to help victims and their communities come to terms with the past, contribute to lasting peace and security, and deter those who might otherwise commit such violations in the future.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the world’s first permanent independent international criminal court with jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of international concern, and is complementary to national criminal jurisdiction. The UK Government believe that the ICC can play an important role in pursuing accountability when national authorities are either unable or unwilling genuinely to do so. We provide both political and financial support to the court, contributing £8.9 million in 2017. As of the end of 2017, the court had issued 31 arrest warrants, handed down verdicts in six cases and convicted nine individuals, one of whom has since been acquitted on appeal. It is currently considering cases from Africa, the middle east, Europe, South-East Asia and South America.

During the course of 2017, the court made reparations awards to the victims of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo and Germain Katanga, both convicted of war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, convicted of destroying cultural heritage sites in Timbuktu. The UK contributed £400,000 to the court’s Trust Fund for Victims to support its work, which has included counselling for rape victims, provision of prosthetics and work to remove any stigma that may attach to child soldiers in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When the Rome Statute entered into force in 2002, three crimes were agreed to be within the immediate jurisdiction of the ICC: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The court’s jurisdiction over a fourth, the crime of aggression, was postponed pending further consideration by states parties. In December 2017, the ICC Assembly of States Parties agreed to activate the court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. It did so on the basis that all states parties explicitly agreed and confirmed in a consensus-based decision that, in the case of a state referral or proprio mutu investigation, the court shall not exercise its jurisdiction regarding a crime of aggression when committed by a national, or on the territory, of a state party that has not ratified or accepted the relevant amendments to the Rome Statute. The UK has no plans to ratify the crime of aggression amendments and welcomes the decision as an authoritative, unqualified and clear interpretation of the amendments to the Rome Statute on the crime of aggression, in accordance with article 121 paragraph 5 of the Rome Statute. The activation of the court’s jurisdiction for this crime takes place today.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) closed at the end of 2017. In its 24 years of operation, the tribunal indicted 161 individuals for serious violations of international humanitarian law and provided a comprehensive historical record of the atrocities committed during the Balkans conflicts. One of its last acts was the conviction and sentencing of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment for the Srebrenica genocide and other serious crimes during the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia. Any outstanding work of the ICTY will now pass to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which also assumed the residual functions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2016.

In addition to the MICT and ICTY, the UK provides practical and financial support to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was established to prosecute crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s; the Special Tribunal for Lebanon; and the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone. Our contributions to these tribunals totalled £5.8 million in 2017.

The UK has also been at the forefront of international efforts to gather and analyse evidence of atrocities committed in the middle east. In 2017, we contributed £200,000 to the UN International Impartial and Independent Mechanism (HIM) to support the preparation of legal cases for serious crimes committed in the Syrian conflict. The UK also led efforts to adopt a UN Security Council resolution establishing an investigative team to collect, preserve and store evidence of Daesh atrocities in Iraq, and contributed £1 million towards its eventual operation.