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“The challenge to the International Criminal Court is being launched from Africa” (l’Unità)

We have recently seen a dangerous weakening of the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a result of the prosecution of Kenya’s political leaders. The proceedings at The Hague against the President of Kenya, Kenyatta, and his deputy, Ruto, are continuing to cause tensions between the court and numerous African states. States who have asked the United Nations Security Council to suspend the proceedings for 12 months, in application of article 16 of the Statute of Rome.

The ICC’s Assembly of States Parties opened yesterday, 20 November 2013, at The Hague. And the sensitive question of the relations between the Court and African states has acted as a catalyst for the work of the diplomatic representatives taking part.

We need to address these criticisms with great honesty and an open mind. The criticism of partiality and prejudice, fruit of the assertion that most of the Court’s proceedings involve situations in the African continent. And the criticism of acting as a potential destabilisation factor, when the people being prosecuted are the heads of state and government – in some cases democratically elected – of countries with a fragile institutional balance.

After the United Nations failed to accept the African request last Friday [15 November 2013], the Assembly of States Parties, which I will be addressing this morning as Italian Foreign Minister, is an important opportunity for discussion. Discussion that must take place in an awareness that difficult situations also offer major opportunities for further growth and the affirmation of the value of this institution. Italy will support and encourage, with conviction, any attempt to find solutions that, with due respect for the principles of the Rome Statute, go some way to meeting the demands of the African countries.

Today, 15 years on from the adoption of the Rome Statute, I still view the ICC as a vital bulwark of the fight against indifference to atrocities such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But there is more. The ICC is an instrument of peace, justice for victims, preventive diplomacy and the promotion of a culture of legality and individual accountability. Its creation, and its principles as an expression of a common determination to put an end to the impunity of those responsible for inhuman crimes, are, today more than ever, a historic conquest for the international community, a conquest that can never be placed in question.

Leaving aside these tensions, discussions will be focusing in the next few days on cooperation between the ICC and the States Parties, and especially on the principle of complementarity between international criminal jurisdiction and national levels of jurisdiction, and the impact of the Court’s work on victims and on the communities affected by the most serious international crimes.

Italy’s attention will remain focused on the victims. Without justice, they will not have peace, and without peace they will not be able to contribute to the national reconciliation processes that give rise to the rebirth of societies that have suffered atrocities of the gravest nature. That is why Italy deems it so important for the victims to take part in these processes and for an awareness of the Court and its work to be disseminated among the communities affected.

The message I intend to convey to my colleagues is that without the collaboration and political support of the international community, the ICC cannot achieve its objectives. But for this to happen, all states must sign up to and ratify the Statute of Rome. While the threshold of 122 States Parties – the most recent to ratify being Ivory Coast, in February 2013 – is a significant goal, it is still not sufficient to ensure that the battle against impunity can be waged without borders. The States Parties must collaborate actively with the Court, first and foremost in enforcing the arrest warrants issued in The Hague – something that does not always happen as promptly as it should.

We must not forget that Italy too, for all that it encouraged the creation of the Court and ratified the Statute immediately, then took a decade to bring its own legislation into line and thus be able to cooperate fully. It is up to us, as States Parties, to continue with conviction and perseverance to provide the Court with the necessary political and financial support.

Without “active” collaboration, without a common commitment and the determination to see the Court function effectively, our hard-won conquest of this first segment of international criminal jurisdiction would be both weakened and debased.

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