x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

International Criminal Court pushes for Arab members to join

Revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have led both countries to take steps towards ratifying the Rome Statute, the court's founding treaty.

Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Elaraby, centre, laughs as he is surrounded by delegates at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo. After a last minute change of candidates, Mr Elaraby was elected the new secretary-general of the Arab League. Amr Nabil / AP Photo/
Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Elaraby, centre, laughs as he is surrounded by delegates at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo. After a last minute change of candidates, Mr Elaraby was elected the new secretary-general of the Arab League. Amr Nabil / AP Photo/

NEW YORK // Prosecutors and judges from the International Criminal Court will meet Arab officials in Doha today and tomorrow at the first conference designed to persuade governments of the Middle East and North Africa to join the body.

The ICC has 115 members, but only three from the Arab world - Jordan, Djibouti and Comoros. The United States, Israel, Russia and China also have refused to join, expressing concern about handing sovereign powers to a higher court.

But the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia have led both countries to take steps towards ratifying the Rome Statute, the court's founding treaty.

Fadi el Abdallah, an ICC spokesman, said the expected ratifications were a "very encouraging" development. The chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said recent Arab co-operation with the court had been "impressive".

"We think it might be the moment to build a movement to encourage these states to ratify and, by discussing and dialogue with them, we can inform them about the possibilities and also address the concerns that they might have," said Mr Abdallah.

The conference is to feature speeches from Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, and Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, as well as ICC prosecutors and Arab jurists.

On the event's website, the Qatari hosts said "there is a needed relationship" between Arab governments and the court.

Tunisia's interim government approved the terms of the Rome Statute in February. After the ousting of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, the country's foreign minister, Nabil Elaraby, unveiled plans to ratify the treaty in April. Egypt wished to become a "legally constituted state", he said.

Nasser Amin, the director of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, said Mr Elaraby would be "pushing the Arab regimes to ratify" the ICC statute once he assumed his role as the next secretary-general of the 22-member Arab League.

Since it was established in 2002, the ICC has launched prosecutions for atrocities in Uganda, Kenya, Congo, Sudan, Libya and the Central African Republic. It prosecutes those accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by nationals of the territories of its members when domestic courts are unwilling or unable to pursue justice, or following a UN Security Council referral.

African politicians often criticise the ICC, saying it disproportionately targets leaders on their continent who have been eschewed by the West. Arab officials are sceptical of the court because it threatens the immunity enjoyed by kings and presidents and lacks the jurisdiction to investigate Israelis for alleged atrocities in Gaza, analysts say.

Regional experts for a pro-justice campaign, the Coalition for the ICC, say Arab attitudes are changing. Arab officials objected to the indictment of the Sudanese president, Omar al Bashir, for atrocities in Darfur in 2009 but many of them support the recent case against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi.

They also point to popular efforts to prosecute the ousted leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Mr Mubarak, who face charges in their home countries for corruption and in connection with the deaths of protesters.

Mr Amin, whose organisation aims to strengthen Arab judiciaries, said Egyptian prosecutors were "not afraid" to launch cases against those orchestrating violence against civilians - one of the crimes that the ICC prosecutes.

An Egyptian ratification would be an influential example for its neighbours to follow, he added. Among the Gulf countries, campaigners note positive overtures to the ICC from Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar but caution from Saudi Arabia. William Pace, who heads the Coalition for the ICC, said there were "very minimal prospects" of new Arab ratifications six months ago, but describes a "new political environment which is much more supportive of ending impunity".

"If what we saw happen in the Arab Spring is akin to the end of the Cold War in Eastern Europe, we may be at the beginning of a very important process of extending the rule of law, human rights and justice at all levels," Mr Pace said.

 

jreinl@thenational.ae