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International Criminal Court: Rome Statute

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they intend to take to raise awareness of the work undertaken by the International Criminal Court, and to provide support for it, in this 10th anniversary year of the coming into force of the Rome statute.

My Lords, the International Criminal Court is now a cornerstone of the international criminal justice system. Since 2002, it has opened seven investigations and 15 cases have been brought before the court. It delivered its first verdict last week in the case of the Congolese militia leader, Thomas Lubanga. We are currently discussing options on how to mark the 10th anniversary occasion. I shall write to the noble Baroness with details once they have been finalised.

I thank the Minister for the support that the Government give to the International Criminal Court, which I am sure is widely welcomed in this House. The Minister will know that 118 countries have ratified, representing all regions of the world, but there are some notable absentees from the list: the United States, China, Russia and India. Does he agree that the ICC would have much more global authority if those countries decided to ratify? Have the Government made representations to those four countries about ratifying? If so, what was the outcome of those representations?

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. My brief says 120 countries, not 118, but she may be right. She is quite right to say that some key countries are not signatories. She mentioned the United States, China, India and Russia; there are also Pakistan and Turkey and some others, including Syria. Obviously, the more signatories come on board, the more effective the ICC will be in future. Do we make representations? At all times. It is known in ICC circles and international circles that it would be good to get those countries to sign. The noble Baroness asks about the response. I have to say that, so far, in relation to the United States in particular, there is not a very encouraging response. There are real internal difficulties in those other countries and in the United States which prevent them signing at the moment, but we will keep pressing.

Does my noble friend agree that future successful referrals to the court are imperilled by the absence of the countries that the noble Baroness mentioned and also those that he mentioned? By way of example, what steps have been taken to secure commissions of inquiry into crimes committed in Myanmar and in North Korea, with a view to UN Security Council referrals to the court in respect of crimes against humanity in those two countries?

My noble friend has mentioned two more countries that are not signatories: Burma and North Korea. In reality, the only way that the ICC can raise charges, commence prosecutions or anything similar with regard to non-signatories is through a resolution from the UN Security Council. That would have to be the way forward, as it was, for instance, with Libya, Sudan and Darfur. So if the UN Security Council could agree, there could be a reference to the ICC in relation to Burma and North Korea. However, my noble friend knows as well as I do that the UN Security Council has differing opinions within it; and on many issues, including the sort he has raised, there are problems.

My Lords, one of the driving forces for the passing of the Rome statute and the setting up of the International Criminal Court was Labour’s Foreign Secretary, the late Robin Cook, whom I had the privilege to support as Attorney-General. Regrettably, as we have been reminded this morning, the United States has failed to ratify it. Given the recent emphasis placed on the special relationship during the Prime Minister’s visit, what specific steps have been taken by Her Majesty's Government to persuade our American friends to become members of the court so that there is a venue recognised by most major states for the trying of international wrongdoers?

The noble and learned Lord is quite right that Robin Cook was the driving force when we took the legislation through the House—with support from both sides; I was sitting on that side at the time—for setting up this remarkable body. The court is getting going but that takes time, so many of the crimes and horrors of the past are still being tried under previous legislation and therefore in separate courts. However, the ICC is making progress. What can we do about the non-signatories, particularly our allies and friends in the United States? They know perfectly well our views. For reasons that I have mentioned—or hinted at—to do with internal pressures in the United States, they have not signed; and frankly, I think that they are not very likely to. However, in terms of co-operation and help in making the operations of the ICC work, the United States has been extremely constructive and extremely helpful.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, two weeks ago in Parliament, Dr Mukesh Kapila, a former British and United Nations official, talking about South Kordofan, said that the second genocide of the 21st century is now unfolding, with more than 1 million people now affected? The area is being bombarded and people are being raped and being killed. Given that the International Criminal Court has indicted the head of state in Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, and also the governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Mohammed Haroun, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, how can we continue to justify full diplomatic relations with mass murderers and fugitives from justice? What is being done to assist the ICC in enforcing arrest warrants in those cases?

Diplomatic relations, as the noble Lord knows from his great experience, are always a dilemma. If you break relations off completely that will be the end of contact and the opportunity to influence. Sometimes that is necessary, but we have to make a careful judgment; and that is the one that we have made so far on this matter. As for the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, it is quite right that the charges are outstanding against President Bashir. I think that there would have to be a further UN Security Council reference to the ICC for it to go ahead in examining these other alleged horrors and atrocities. I do not for a moment doubt what the noble Lord says about the horrors that have been going on—I think that they have been going on. It may be that the process will get under way. However, that is the only path through which we can get the ICC qualified. It cannot itself take an initiative without the support of the established procedures through the UN.

My Lords, we should of course welcome the conviction this week by the ICC of Thomas Lubanga, who was found guilty of terrible rapes and murders in Congo. Does the Minister agree that the conviction represents real progress for international justice and confirms that the judges of the ICC were scrupulously fair? Does it not also raise questions about the work of the court? Should it learn lessons from what the judges called a flawed investigation and prosecution? The pre-trial detention of the prisoner for seven years was one example of that inefficiency.

The noble Baroness is right; there are lessons to be learnt. Certainly when I looked at the briefing I, too, remarked that it was extraordinary that we had set up the court in 2002 and the first conviction had come almost 10 years later. There must be ways of speeding up these things. However, the cases are immensely complex; all sorts of political pressures are brought to bear before people can be indicted at The Hague; and there are great difficulties in getting some of these people located, charged and transferred to The Hague. Certainly there are lessons to be learnt, and improvements can be made to make this an even more effective organisation in future.