Tuesday, December 13, 2011

View from New York: ICC ASP session

(Delighted to welcome back alumna Leila Nadya Sadat, who contributes this guest post)

NEW YORK – Here at the 10th Session of the Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court, it is remarkable how much and how little has changed since I first started attending meetings relating to the ICC and its establishment since 1995.
New York City seems more international than ever, and more crowded; the sign on the fence surrounding the United Nations which reads “7 Billion” perhaps explains why – there are indeed more than us than ever, it is not just an illusion. Yet the world is a more peaceful place than it was when the United Nations was founded in 1945 and the world’s population was a mere 2.5 billion or so.
At least part of this success can be credited to the establishment of international institutions dedicated to, among other things, establish and maintain peace – not just as a matter of ideology but by taking practical measures to alleviate the suffering and poverty that lead to unrest, and by establishing, as Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, a place where states can “meet and talk.” (p. 15)
That place, of course, is the United Nations itself, and this international gathering place in this most international of cities never ceases to amaze me. Wander about the building and admire the donations from every corner of the globe of artwork, statues, carpets, figurines, glassware and beautiful spaces, and the creativity and potential of the human spirit come alive. The ICC ASP, while not a UN institution, often holds meetings on UN premises, allowing all States to participate, since all States Parties (and virtually all observers) are members of the United Nations and have permanent representatives in New York. (credit for photo of U.N. headquarters)
Alas, the crowding on our planet and the success of our new international institutions is reflected in the situation in the conference rooms allocated for this 10th Meeting of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties.
It is nearly unbelievable that in the short time I have been coming to meetings, the Court has grown, from a gleam in the eye of academics, experts, former Nuremberg prosecutors and a few world leaders, to an international institution with 120 States Parties as ICC members. This has meant that the space allocated to meetings of the Court has become increasingly crowded. Thus, Tiina Intelmann, the new President of the Assembly, was confronted yesterday by angry delegations seated in the back of the room which had less table space and – more importantly – no access to microphones. She was forced to create a rule that each delegation was limited to only two representatives, so that all States Parties could actively participate in the elections of judges in the afternoon.
Since IntLawGrrl Beth Van Schaack already posted the specifics of each vote, I will confine my comments to noting that, with the election yesterday of a judge from the Philippines (Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago) and Trinidad and Tobago (Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona), four slots remain to be filled. Sixteen contenders are vying for those places, including 7 African contenders, two contenders for 1 slot reserved for Eastern Europe, 4 contenders for another slot reserved for Latin American and Caribbean contenders, a French and a British nominee. Because two of the four slots remaining must go to an Eastern European or Latin American/Caribbean nominee, for the African and European nominees, as well as the other nominees from Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe and Latin America/Caribbean it is quite likely to get very warm in overcrowded conference room 2!
A couple of other notes from yesterday’s opening plenary.
► First, congratulations to ICC Deputy Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda for her election as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Her wealth of experience, her talent and commitment to justice, her tremendous personal charisma and gravitas and her inclusive and collaborative working style will no doubt all contribute to an exceptionally productive and effective tenure as Chief Prosecutor. She received the World Peace Through Law Award from the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University School of Law, my home institution, on September 20, 2011. The was award established by and given in honor of the late Whitney R. Harris, former Nuremberg Prosecutor.
Fatou, we are so delighted with your election, and I’m sure Whitney would have been overwhelmed to hear the good news. We wish you the best of luck in your new position.
► With the election of a female Chief Prosecutor, and a woman as head of the ASP, it also seems that perhaps the ICC is turning a corner in terms of gender equity at the top levels of its leadership. More later today as the Gender Report Card is launched by the Geneva-based Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, whose leaders are IntLawGrrls contributors.
A couple of other notes from the field are worth reporting.
► First, the United States has a large and important delegation present as observers (although they are not able to sit in overcrowded conference room 2 during plenary sessions at this point in time), and no doubt will be intervening during the general debate.
The question remains why the United States continues to remain outside the ICC regime.
At first the US position was that it was too complicated, premature, too difficult and wasn’t going to happen – I remember sitting on expert panels in 1995, 1996 and 1997, and hearing this over and over again.
When the Statute was actually adopted in Rome in 1998, this negativity spilled over into a “no” vote, a negative report on the Treaty to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and much later a reluctant signature of this “flawed” treaty (in the words of the U.S. administration).
The eight years of the Bush administration saw the Bolton policy of the “three nos” which were destined to help the Court “wither and die,” and although this policy softened after 2006, legislation was adopted to implement it, legislation which is still on the books.
Now that the ICC has 120 States Parties and is clearly doing the work that the United States and other democracies want it to do – the question remains what possible benefit the United States believes it gets from remaining outside the ICC regime, unable to vote for the Prosecutor and judges, and even worse, unable to nominate one of its nationals as a judge on this important Court.
► Here I need to put in a plug for John Washburn (prior IntLawGrrls post), a former U.S. foreign service officer and diplomat who has served this country tirelessly for decades. I had the pleasure to meet him at Rome; he'd founded AMICC, the American NGO Coalition for the ICC, which covers the ICC in wonderful, rich detail, and who, along with his small team of experts, continues to work for U.S. engagement with the Court and, one day, for full US membership in the Court. (AMICC is blogging the current Assembly of States Parties session here, and tweeting it here. And someone seems regularly to be updating the WikiPedia balloting table here.)
One of the things that has remained constant during the more than 15 years I have been attending ICC-related meetings has been the steady presence of deeply committed individuals from civil society, including John, Bill Pace (prior post), head of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, and Richard Dicker from Human Rights Watch. And of course, one of the individuals who has continued to be present and contribute actively to the creation and effectiveness of this new international institution is former Nuremberg Prosecutor and conscience of the world, Ben Ferencz, who at 92 years of age, continues to work for peace and the rule of law.
► Finally, one of the biggest issues at this ASP is one to IntLawGrrl Diane Marie Amann and I have referred in previous posts, here and here. The issue is the budget – a struggle for the Court, as with all the international criminal tribunals before it – to get the resources it needs to do the job it has been tasked with.

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