President Gurmendi, thank you for your update on the ICC’s activities from August 1, 2016, to July 31, 2017.
The United States remains deeply committed to accountability for atrocity crimes, and we continue to support myriad international, regional, hybrid, and domestic mechanisms that work in pursuit of this goal. Among these options, we have long believed and stated that justice is most effective when it is delivered at the local level. We would call on the ICC and states to respect genuine domestic efforts to promote justice for atrocity crimes.
As we look across the landscape of international justice, we see countries taking on this important task, and the United States welcomes the progress they have made. In the Central African Republic, personnel have been appointed to the Special Criminal Court to begin the work of ending impunity for mass atrocities in that country. Since May of this year, the Head International Prosecutor as well as national and international magistrates, prosecutors, and investigators have been named. We are also encouraged by the work of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers, which continues to ready itself for any indictments from the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office. In the last year a roster of judges was selected, along with a President of the Court, and the judges convened and adopted rules of procedure and evidence.
In addition to these positive steps in domestic systems, the United States is pleased to see advancements in a number of regional and hybrid efforts to end impunity for atrocity crimes. For example, in November of last year the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia upheld the convictions of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan for crimes against humanity, finally bringing a measure of justice for the victims of murder, persecution, and other inhumane acts in Cambodia decades ago. In South Sudan, the African Union is working with the South Sudanese government to prepare for judicial processes of accountability, taking steps to establish a hybrid court to prosecute those responsible for atrocities committed in that country. For institutions like these, there is still much work to be done, but every step forward is a welcome one.
In this vein, the United States has supported building a foundation for accountability through documentation of atrocities that can help domestic courts deliver justice. In Iraq, for example, the United States supported UN Security Council Resolution 2379, adopted last month, requesting the Secretary-General to establish an investigative team composed of international and Iraqi experts, headed by a Special Adviser, to support Iraqi domestic efforts to hold ISIS accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence in Iraq of acts that may amount to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Information gathered by the team could be used by Iraq, and, with the approval of the Security Council, other Member States in whose territory ISIS has committed acts that may amount to genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity may request the team to collect evidence of such acts. The resolution further encourages other Member States to provide appropriate legal assistance and capacity building to the Government of Iraq in order to strengthen its courts and judicial system. Taking timely steps to gather evidence for potential use in criminal prosecutions will be particularly important, as we know that over time material and witness testimony may be more difficult or impossible to obtain.
The United States has also for years supported Syrian NGOs documenting human rights abuses and international humanitarian law violations in Syria, as well as the Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) established in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council with a mandate to investigate all human rights violations in Syria. The United States has also strongly supported the call for accountability in numerous UN Security Council resolutions and supported the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate chemical weapons attacks. In the past year, we have supported the international community in taking efforts one step further with the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria, established through a United Nations General Assembly resolution in December 2016. Its mandate is to consolidate and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and abuses and violations of human rights law, including evidence generated by the COI, NGOs, and others, and to prepare files in order to facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings in appropriate fora. This can be an important step forward to support investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators of atrocities in Syria.
As these and other efforts demonstrate, it is through multiple institutions and mechanisms that the international community can fight to end impunity for those crimes that shock our common conscience.
As the United States considers these issues and how they relate to the ICC moving forward, I would recall that we have serious concerns with respect to the crime of aggression amendments, which we believe contain dangerous ambiguities regarding basic issues such as which states and what conduct would be covered by the amendments. As we have said consistently, we believe that such issues should be clarified before any decision is taken by ICC States Parties to activate the amendments. Taking concrete steps to do so will help ensure that states are able to join together when necessary to take action to prevent atrocities and safeguard collective security.
In closing, so long as minorities in Burma are persecuted and murdered, so long as civilians are attacked with chemical weapons in Syria, so long as South Sudanese children are abducted and forced into combat, so long as people are being tortured and disappeared in Burundi, states cannot stand idly by. Those who are responsible for atrocities must face consequences for their actions in accordance with international law. The United States will continue our work toward that end, steadfast in our commitment to pursue justice for the world’s worst crimes.