From 13 November 2012 to 21 November 2012, I served as a CASIN delegate to the International Criminal Court’s (“ICC”) Eleventh Session of the Assembly of States Parties (“ASP”) in The Hague, Netherlands. This experience offered a unique look at the way in which policy and procedure underpin an international legal institution. Three observations fascinated me throughout the formal plenary sessions and the informal side meetings. First, I developed a better understanding of how states parties advocated the views of their governments in a large, multilateral setting. Second, I noticed the collaborative tone adopted by states parties while presenting different issues over the course of the ASP. Third, I was surprised to see how actively involved the NGOs were in the formal and informal sessions. This memorandum will further discuss my observations at this year’s ASP and explain how I believe this experience has helped strengthen my understanding of international legal issues.
Many voices were heard at this year’s ASP. In addition to the 121 states parties to the Rome Statute, this year’s meeting was attended by a handful of non-party states and NGOs. With a full slate of agenda items to cover, it was incumbent on the delegates to respect the procedural constraints and ensure that each session ran smoothly and concluded in a timely manner. The only wrinkle seemed to be the five rounds of voting required to elect Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart. However, this must be viewed as a necessary consequence of the democratic and transparent nature of the ICC’s procedural mechanisms. Towards the end of the ASP, there was an amendment proposed by Belgian delegate Mr. Gérard Dive. After a few responses from other states parties, it became clear that the amendment did not have the support necessary to ensure its passage. Instead of pushing the envelope, Mr. Dive took the cooperative step of withdrawing the amendment from consideration. Multilateral institutions must possess a collective awareness of the need for cooperation, and after attending the ASP I believe that the International Criminal Court possesses this trait.
In both the formal plenary sessions and the informal side sessions, there were several examples of states parties collaborating to moderate and facilitate discussion on trending international legal issues. On 19 November 2012, Denmark and South Africa moderated the formal session on complementarity, or the idea that the ICC can only prosecute crimes once the national courts have failed to do so. The shared European and African perspectives helped legitimize the discussion on complementarity. The Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Mr. Villy Søvndal, noted that “increased international cooperation on building and further developing the ability of states to prosecute the most heinous crimes at the national level” was essential to the functioning of both the ICC and domestic criminal courts. The states parties participating in this discussion echoed the comments of Denmark and South Africa. Countries also collaborated on moderating informal side sessions over the course of the ASP. For example, on 20 November 2012, Colombia, Tunisia, and the Victims Rights Working Group co-hosted an event addressing the importance and challenges of victim participation. The commendable efforts of states parties from various parts of the world to facilitate discussion on important international legal rights issues was essential to the success of this year’s ASP.
The work of the NGOs at the ASP was noticeable in both formal and informal sessions. During the general debate, the floor was yielded to a variety of organizations, including the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (“CICC”), the Open Society Justice Initiative, and Amnesty International. More importantly, NGOs moderated and co-hosted side sessions with states parties, including, for example, the Europe Strategy Consultation meeting co-hosted by the CICC and Cyprus. In years past, NGOs were often marginalized in the meetings of large, multilateral institutions and relegated to strict observer status. In the last couples decades, however, there has been a dramatic shift in the role played by NGOs, so much in fact that in this year’s ASP, not only were NGOs fundamental to the meeting’s success, but they were openly lauded by states parties for their efforts. For example, the Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Mr. Urmas Paet, noted that “governments, civil society and international organizations strive to strengthen domestic jurisdiction when dealing with Rome Statute crimes,” and asked attendees to remember “that civil society has significantly supported both the establishment and the work of the Court.” With the understanding that the work of NGOs has been essential to the success of the ICC, serving as a delegate for CASIN was extremely rewarding and enriching.
The International Criminal Court’s Eleventh Session of the Assembly of States Parties was beneficial to all parties involved. Among other achievements, attendees cooperated with each other to pass next year’s budget, elect a new Deputy Prosecutor, and confront pressing issues of international law. Having the chance to serve as a delegate with CASIN enriched my understanding of the bureaucratic processes underpinning the legal operations of the International Criminal Court. Going forward, I would like to continue to stay involved in the work of NGOs with respect to the ICC and other international legal bodies, and see that others get involved as well. Having this comprehensive, international exposure to an event like the ASP will surely help me as I continue my legal studies in New York City and prepare for post-graduate employment.