“The International Criminal Court in Turbulent Times”
The Hague, 31 June and 1 July 2018
The conference “The International Criminal Court in Turbulent Times”, organized by Prof Dr Andreas Zimmermann, University of Potsdam, and Prof Dr Gerhard Werle, Humboldt University Berlin, took place in The Hague on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in May 2018. The purpose of the conference was to take stock of the ICC’s activities. It provided a platform for an academic discourse on what many have deemed a crisis as well as perspectives of the Court’s future development. The conference analyzed and evaluated the current and future challenges the ICC is facing after almost 15 years of operation.
The ICC was established in 1998 despite considerable resistance from many powerful political players such as the United States, the Russian Federation, India, and China. Today, the Court is at a turning point. Several States Parties, particularly African states which represent the largest regional group and which have been among the most dedicated supporters of the ICC’s establishment, have voiced serious criticism. Many of these states accuse the Court and its Prosecutor of political bias for almost exclusively selecting situations on the African continent. In 2016, these developments culminated in three notices of withdrawal from the ICC, namely on the part of Burundi, South Africa, and The Gambia. Burundi’s withdrawal took effect in October 2017. Although South Africa and The Gambia subsequently revoked their withdrawals and the “mass exodus” many had feared did not occur, the possibility of further withdrawals remains. In addition, the Russian Federation – following the United States, Israel, and Sudan – revoked its signature of the Rome Statute in 2016 after the Prosecutor had stated, in the context of the preliminary investigation in Ukraine, that the territory of Crimea is occupied by Russia.
The conference evaluated these points of criticism. It also discussed current developments in their historical perspective and offered an academically substantiated prognosis regarding the Court’s future.
The constant calls for an ICC intervention in conflicts such as Syria illustrate that the Court has become an established instrument of conflict resolution. Nevertheless, the ICC has yet to find its role in the system of collective peacekeeping, particularly regarding the tension between peace and justice. These issues will soon attract specific attention in the context of the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, which has recently been activated.
Frequent discussions also revolve around the relationship between the ICC and other institutions, particularly the UN Security Council, as well as third states. Regarding the latter, the situation in Afghanistan is now of particular interest. The Office of the Prosecutor has requested judicial authorization to open official investigations, which would cover, among others, US soldiers who allegedly tortured prisoners in detention facilities located in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, and Lithuania. Other current preliminary examinations may result in cases against Israeli, UK, and Russian citizens. Furthermore, some concepts included in the Rome Statute and their interpretations by the ICC, for example relating to head of state immunity, have caused continued controversy.
The conference brought together experts from both academia and practice in the field of international criminal law. The location in The Hague allowed for the participation of representatives of the Court and the Office of the Prosecutor. The conference thus combined practical experiences and academic insights, enabling the participants to develop concrete policy recommendations for the future development of the ICC. In this respect, the conference has provided for a transfer of knowledge.
An emphasis has been placed on including academics and practitioners from non-European countries, not least in order to develop a better understanding of the criticism voiced by many African states regarding the Court’s practice. On both conference days, high-profile experts gave presentations on specific problems, each followed by in-depth discussions.