The International Criminal Court’s annual meeting of 123 member countries started this week at the United Nations in New York. This year’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) is discussing, among other things, whether the “crime of aggression” will be added to the ICC’s jurisdiction alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
This debate is not just academic and legal. The “crime of aggression” — i.e. one country aggressing another — divides both ICC member and non-member States, because it could mean the indictment of State leaders in cases like Russia’s war in Georgia and/or annexation of Crimea, and the United States’, France’s and Britain’s intervention in Libya. Ugandan and Rwandan meddling in the Democratic Republic of Congo could also be the target of Court procedures, as well as the multiple interferences in Syria’s war and the actions of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Yemen.
This same week, the ICC Prosecutor said she had found there was a “reasonable basis” to believe war crimes were committed by British forces in Iraq. This new development puts pressure on the UK to prosecute suspected perpetrators of the alleged murders and abuses in question. “That, in substance, is the aim of the preliminary examination opened by the Prosecutor in 2014 into abuses committed by British forces in Iraq between March 2003 and July 2009,” writes our correspondent in The Hague Stéphanie Maupas. “The Prosecutor points to murder, cruel treatment, abuses against human dignity and rape.” This report does not, however, mean that the ICC is ready to open a full investigation and trial. The Prosecutor aims primarily to exert pressure so that British authorities do not content themselves with a few symbolic cases but go after those most responsible and the chain of command of British forces in Iraq, including Prime Minister at the time Tony Blair. That is not likely to happen any time soon.
In Yemen, foreign interests are hampering humanitarian aid and a negotiated peace, as ICRC President Peter Maurer explained in an interview with JusticeInfo.net. “The declarations in favour of negotiation are at odds with the policies deployed by the States involved,” he says. “They all tell an international audience that they want political solutions, but at the same time they encourage forces on the ground not to compromise.”
Humanitarian agencies have been warning for many months of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Yemen, such as the Saudi Arabian blockade which has exposed the civilian population to famine. “This is an extreme emergency situation in Yemen,” says Peter Maurer. “We can act, but the situation is worsening faster than our capacity to respond to the basic needs of the population.”
As for Croatia, it is still in denial a week after the dramatic suicide of Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak in a hearing of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Croat national TV paid tribute at peak viewing time to this former military leader, still seen as a national hero. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic nevertheless urged Croats to “have the strength to admit that some of our fellow compatriots in Bosnia committed crimes and they have to be held responsible for them”. But she added that Croatia, as a State, was “not an aggressor”.