International Justice at Kampala Conference
Watershed Moment for Governments to Renew
Commitment to International Criminal Court
(Kampala, May 27, 2010) – Governments
should use the first review conference of the International Criminal
Court (ICC) to advance justice for the worst international crimes, Human
Rights Watch said today. The 10-day conference, which begins May 31,
2010, is being held in Kampala, Uganda.
Representatives of the court’s 111 member states, non-member states,
the United Nations, and civil society groups will gather at the
conference to reaffirm the importance of bringing to justice those
accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the crimes
covered by the ICC. The treaty that created the court, the Rome Statute,
mandated holding a review conference seven years after its entry into
force to discuss possible amendments. The first part of the conference
will address crucial challenges confronting the ICC in its day-to-day
work as part of “stocktaking” sessions.
“This major gathering of officials and activists from around the world
in Kampala is bad news for those responsible for the worst international
crimes,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human
Rights Watch. “We expect governments to seize the moment to step up
their commitment to global justice.”
After four days of debate and discussion at the conference on
strengthening the ICC and the emerging system of international justice,
governments will review proposals to amend the ICC treaty. One of the
amendments for discussion is whether to adopt a definition of the crime
of aggression – using force that is manifestly contrary to the UN
charter – and if so, the manner in which the court would exercise
jurisdiction over such cases.
Human Rights Watch called on governments to make commitments at the
conference to take specific steps to bolster cooperation with the ICC.
The court relies on governments to carry out arrests and assist its
investigations and prosecutions. Seven of the ICC’s suspects remain at
“Unless governments actually make arrests, the ICC cannot deliver
justice to victims of mass atrocities,” Dicker said. “We will be
listening in Kampala for pledges of increased support to place
perpetrators and would-be perpetrators on notice that they will be held
Regional intergovernmental organizations including the European Union
and the Union of South American Nations have, in advance of the
conference, issued statements of support for the ICC and international
justice. Over 100 African civil society organizations have signed a
statement calling on their governments to reaffirm their commitment to
the ICC at the Kampala conference.
Last year’s backlash over the court’s arrest warrant for President Omar
al-Bashir of Sudan –
whose re-inauguration takes
place today in Khartoum – has underscored the importance of strong
public backing for the court’s mandate. Controversy over the court’s
warrant for Omar al-Bashir indicates that it is doing its job to make
sure that even the most senior officials answer for alleged crimes,
Human Rights Watch said.
The conference’s location in Kampala also offers a unique
opportunity to forge stronger links between the ICC and those affected
by egregious international crimes in Africa, Human Rights Watch said.
States should consider as well how to extend the reach of international
justice through credible trials of ICC crimes at the national level.
“Breaking the vicious cycle of international crimes and impunity
requires credible national trials in addition to ICC trials in The
Hague,” Dicker said. “Discussions in Kampala should include attention to
bolstering accountability efforts at home.”
With regard to the discussions of the crime of aggression, Human
Rights Watch said that it takes no position on the definition. But Human
Rights Watch expressed concern that making the crime of aggression
operational could link the ICC to highly politicized disputes between
states that could diminish the court’s role – and perceptions of that
role – as an impartial judicial arbiter of international criminal law.
Human Rights Watch is also concerned about proposals to allow outside
entities such as the UN Security Council, its General Assembly, or the
International Court of Justice to decide whether the ICC can investigate
alleged crimes of aggression. Human Rights Watch has long opposed
control of any crime within the court’s jurisdiction by external bodies
because it would undermine the ICC’s judicial independence.
The ICC is the world’s first permanent court mandated to
bring to justice perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity,
and genocide when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The
ICC treaty, known as the Rome Statute, entered into force in 2002, just
four years after 120 states adopted the treaty during the Rome
An Assembly of States Parties (ASP) was created by the Rome Statute to
provide management oversight of administration of the court. It consists
of representatives of each state member and is required to meet at least
once a year, but can meet more often as required.
The Rome Statute mandates that seven years after the treaty enters into
force, the UN secretary-general is to convene a review conference to
consider any amendments to the treaty. At its seventh ASP session, in
2008, ICC members agreed to hold this conference in Kampala.
The crime of aggression was included in the Rome Statute, but without a
definition or the conditions under which the court could exercise
jurisdiction over the crime. A special working group of the ASP was
formed in 2003 to prepare proposals for amendments that, if adopted,
would make the crime operational.
In addition to considering proposed amendments such as on the crime of
aggression, the agenda of the review conference includes a general
debate in which high-level representatives of ICC member states are
expected to participate and two days of debate and discussion as part of
a "stocktaking” exercise. At their eighth ASP session, ICC members
decided on four topics for stocktaking: cooperation; complementarity, or
strengthening national courts to try Rome Statute crimes; the impact of
the Rome Statute system on victims and affected communities; and the
relationship between peace and justice.
The court’s jurisdiction may be triggered in one of three ways. States
parties or the UN Security Council can refer a situation (meaning a
specific set of events) to the ICC prosecutor, or the ICC prosecutor can
seek on his own motion the authorization by a pre-trial chamber of ICC
judges to open an investigation.
The ICC prosecutor has opened investigations in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda, the Darfur region of
Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Kenya. Based on those
investigations, 13 arrest warrants and one summons to appear have been
issued. The prosecutor is also looking at a number of other situations
in countries around the world. These include Colombia, Georgia, Cote
d’Ivoire, Afghanistan, and Guinea. The Palestinian National Authority
has also petitioned the ICC prosecutor to accept jurisdiction over
crimes committed in Gaza.
Four individuals are in ICC custody in The Hague. A fifth,
Bahr Idriss Abu Garda – who was charged with war crimes in connection
with an attack on African Union peacekeepers in Darfur – appeared
voluntarily during pre-trial proceedings. The ICC’s pre-trial chamber
subsequently declined to confirm charges brought against Abu Garda.
The court began its first trial, of the Congolese rebel leader Thomas
Lubanga Dyilo, on January 26, 2009. Its second trial, against the
Congolese rebel leaders Germain Katanga and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, began
on November 24, 2009.
In addition to al-Bashir and two other individuals sought in
relation to the Darfur situation, arrest warrants remain outstanding for
leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda and for Bosco
Ntaganda, a former rebel commander now integrated into the Congolese
To read the Human Rights Watch report, “Making Kampala Count: Advancing
the Global Fight against Impunity at the ICC Review Conference,” please
To read the African civil society declaration on the ICC review
conference, please visit:
To download broadcast-quality audio in English and French about of
African support for the ICC, please visit:
For more information about this audio, please contact:
In New York, Jessie Graham (English, French):
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the ICC, please visit:
For other materials about the ICC and the ICC
Review Conference, please visit:
For more information, please contact:
In Kampala, Elise Keppler (English): +256-787-556-096 (mobile)
In Kampala, Richard Dicker (English):
In Kampala, Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner (English, French):
In Kampala, Elizabeth Evenson (English): +256-775-041-129
In Kampala, Tiseke Kasambala (English): +256-787-556-095 (mobile)