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International Criminal Court

Volume 778: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the composition and effectiveness of the International Criminal Court.

My Lords, the UK is committed to a rules-based international order and strongly supports the International Criminal Court. The ICC plays an important role in global efforts to end impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern by holding perpetrators to account and achieving justice for victims. Some 124 states parties have now adopted the ICC’s Rome statute and we work actively with the court and international partners to improve further its efficiency and effectiveness.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Can she tell us what assessment the Government have made of the decision reached only last week by the African Union at its summit in Addis Ababa calling for all African countries to leave the International Criminal Court, and indeed of the negative and disparaging attitude of both the Kremlin and the White House? How do we intend to rally international support in the UN Security Council and elsewhere to stop the unravelling of the court and to strengthen and enhance its efficacy in bringing to justice those who are responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?

My Lords, the short answer would be by continuing to work hard to ensure that other states parties take seriously their responsibilities and by working with colleagues such as the United States to ensure that even when they are not states parties themselves, they support as they have done the work of the ICC.

Perhaps I may address the first part of the noble Lord’s question referring to the decision at the AU summit because it is important. I appreciate what the newspaper reporting has been, but it is our understanding that the strategy being referred to does not call for mass withdrawal, but actually for further research. When I read what was said by Ministers who attended the summit, I see that they voiced strong opposition. The list of those who opposed even the research is long and includes Nigeria, Senegal and Cape Verde—I could go on and on, so there is work that we can do.

My Lords, given that the Government of whom I was a member as Attorney-General played a major role in setting up this court, have Her Majesty’s Government expressed any views to individual countries proposing to leave its jurisdiction?

Yes, my Lords; it is absolutely right that we should do so. I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord asked the question. When I was in The Hague quite recently at the states parties meeting I had a long meeting with the Justice Minister of South Africa and was able to explore in technical detail the reasons why South Africa felt that the way in which the Rome treaty was being interpreted was not in accord with its understanding. Shortly I travel to Burundi and Uganda. Uganda has not withdrawn; it gave its support, although there has been some criticism. Burundi is one of those withdrawing and I shall continue my conversations in person.

My Lords, the United States of America is not part of the International Criminal Court; it fears the politicisation of the process. Are Her Majesty’s Government sympathetic to that position? It seems unlikely to change in the near future. Or do they sympathise with the idea that there should be complete and universal ratification of the Rome statute?

My Lords, we continue to work towards universal and complete ratification of the Rome statute, while understanding that some countries, including allies such as the United States, may be supportive without being signatories to the Rome statute. I can tell my noble friend that since the election of President Trump we have worked closely with the Administration in the United Nations and the ICC in New York and with Nikki Haley, who has been appointed as the US representative to the United Nations, to ensure that United States co-operation with the ICC continues.

My Lords, in April last year the House of Commons resolved that ISIS should be referred to the ICC. What action have the Government taken to raise this at the Security Council in order to secure an investigation?

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will be aware that a United Nations Security Council resolution on these very matters was vetoed a while ago. We continue to press the issue of bringing ISIL/Daesh to account and also bringing Assad to account. Therefore I am pleased to say that on 21 December last year we co-sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution to establish a new international, impartial, independent mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in Syria since March 2011.

My Lords, following the visit of Sudan’s President al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court, to many countries including Kenya, South Africa, China, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, what discussions have Her Majesty’s Government had with the Governments of those countries about their failure to arrest him? Does the noble Baroness agree that the failure to arrest someone indicted by the International Criminal Court devalues and discredits the work of the ICC?

The noble Baroness raises a very important point. It is the case that countries which are states parties should, indeed, ensure that those who are indicted by them are then arrested. I was able, as I mentioned a moment ago to the noble and learned Lord, to discuss these wide matters with South Africa. The UK and EU partners have conducted demarches in countries which failed to arrest President Bashir. We agree with the noble Baroness that achieving justice for victims should be at the heart of the international community’s response to mass atrocity violence. It is important that fugitives from international justice do not just get away.

My Lords, the substantive decision of the African Union, as I understand it, was not withdrawal but a call for regionalisation of the ICC. Does the Minister agree that one very important issue that arises about that concerns the consequences of regionalisation and the need to ensure continuation of three principles: first, due process of taking evidence; secondly, penalties meeting an international standard; and thirdly, the ability still to make appeals at a global level?

My Lords, as I mentioned a little while ago, I think there has been a little misreporting or misunderstanding of what was decided at the African Union. However, the noble Lord makes an important point. We welcome initiatives, whether at regional or international level, to support international justice and accountability, so we are willing to listen to all ways that can take us forward. The most appropriate forum for discussion of issues that states may have with the ICC is the Assembly of States Parties, which I have attended in the two years for which I have had the justification, as Minister, for doing so. We make our points very strongly there, both in the forum itself and bilaterally.

My Lords, if the African members were to withdraw, 34 of the total membership of 124 would have left, and this sole forum for global criminal justice would be lost. Is not the chief prosecutor, Ms Bensouda, collecting evidence in various countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq—and is there any prospect of further prosecution from such localities?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of Fatou Bensouda against sometimes very challenging conditions. We support her in her work. She is independent, and we do not try to influence it; that would be improper. I repeat that this was not a mass withdrawal, and we are not expecting a mass withdrawal of African states. I am certainly working towards ensuring that the ICC maintains its credibility. Changes in government in the Gambia show that there can be ways of ensuring that countries stay members of the ICC.