Remarks at the UN General Assembly on the Report of the International Criminal Court

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Ambassador David Pressman
Alternate Representative to the UN for Special Political Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
November 5, 2015

Thank you, Mr. President.

President Gurmendi, thank you for your presentation of the International Criminal Court’s activities between August 1, 2014, and July 31, 2015, and for your service to the Court in this first year of your tenure as President.

Ending impunity for those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, is something that the United States views as both a moral imperative and a stabilizing force in international affairs. To this end, the United States continues to work – on a case-by-case basis and consistent with U.S. policy and laws – with the International Criminal Court to identify practical ways to advance accountability for the worst crimes known to humanity. Together, the international community must find ways to intensify our collaboration to bring to justice the perpetrators of atrocity crimes.

This past year has been marked by some progress. In January, the United States welcomed the transfer of Dominic Ongwen by Central African authorities to the ICC, which occurred thanks to close cooperation between the Court, the Central African Republic, Uganda, the African Union Regional Task Force, and the United States. Ongwen is allegedly responsible for committing and directing brutal crimes in Uganda and the region. The fact that he will now stand trial at the ICC is a welcome and it is a long overdue step toward justice for the victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army. And the United States was pleased to work with our partners to help make that happen. We look forward to the day when Joseph Kony, too, will be held accountable.

The United States also recently welcomed the announcement by the ICC Prosecutor in September that Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, an alleged member of the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Dine, was surrendered to the Court by Nigerien authorities, with the cooperation of Mali. This is an important step toward holding accountable those responsible for serious crimes in Mali and toward holding accountable alleged members of extremist groups for war crimes. The charges against Al Faqi signal progress in bringing to justice those accused of intentionally targeting attacks against religious and historic buildings and monuments. Now such assaults are not just on Mali and its people, but on the common cultural heritage of all humankind. These are attacks against civilization and a tragedy for all civilized people, and, as Secretary of State John Kerry has said, “the civilized world must take a stand.” The United States commends Mali and Niger on their cooperation to transfer Al Faqi to the Court.

The United States also welcomes the Court’s report of continued cooperation with peacekeeping missions that have been authorized by the Security Council to provide support to appropriate justice and accountability initiatives.

We recognize, with particular appreciation, the contributions of UN-Women toward the work of the Office of the Prosecutor through the secondment of gender experts. At a time when we continue to witness the commission of horrific sexual and gender-based violence crimes against women and girls, boys and men, in atrocity situations around the world, we must remain vigilant in our fight to prevent, end, and hold to account those responsible for these most heinous crimes. The United States remains committed to pursuing justice for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, including through strengthening the ability of national authorities to address these crimes, which we are doing in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The ICC was established as a court of last resort, one that would focus on those deemed most responsible for the most serious crimes, and one that would step in to investigate and prosecute such persons only when states are not willing or genuinely able to do so themselves. Our support for domestic accountability efforts must be integral to our approach collectively to ending impunity for atrocity crimes. We welcome the progress made in the Central African Republic to establish a Special Criminal Court, within its domestic system but with international participation. This represents an important step toward providing accountability at the national level for the crimes committed amidst the ongoing brutal violence in the Central African Republic, while simultaneously bolstering national-level capacity. The Special Criminal Court could demonstrate the potential of “positive complementarity,” whereby international scrutiny and activity have stimulated and supported the capacity of the domestic judiciary to bring justice to victims.

In closing, it is important to note that there is still much to be done in our work together to prevent mass atrocities and bring to justice those who commit crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. Facing limited resources and increasing demands, it will be important for the Court to make prudent decisions about the cases it pursues and declines to pursue and ensure that its choices are guided by justice, rigor, fairness, and care. And the international community should strive to ensure that the Court is able to remain focused on its core mandate to address war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and the Court should remain focused on achieving concrete and just results.

We note in this regard that the United States continues to have serious concerns about the crime of aggression amendments adopted at Kampala, which we believe would risk undermining not only the Court’s work to prevent and punish atrocity crimes, but other legitimate efforts to do so as well. If States do not have clarity on what conduct is covered, it is easy to imagine the complications and the chilling effect that would arise in any number of situations where the imperative for action, including by our partners and allies who are parties to the Rome Statute, is overwhelming, including action aimed at stopping the very atrocities that prompted the Court’s creation. Imagine – in such a situation after the Court’s aggression, jurisdiction has been activated – questions states would face about whether the Court would regard as aggression a decision to join or support a coalition to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. It is in this context that we stress that we all have an interest in seeking greater clarity on key issues before any decision is taken to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, including with regard both to what conduct is covered, but also which States are covered. States should not have to decide whether to activate the amendments without clear and common understanding on these points.

Mr. President, we look forward to continued cooperation with the United Nations and our international partners on these most important of matters.

Thank you very much.

Source: U.S Department of State

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