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Tension mounts as ICC states enter negotiations on crime of aggression

Pressure is mounting at the ongoing International Criminal Court (ICC) conference here as states are increasingly split on whether the ICC should have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression or not and whether the UN Security Council should solely refer cases of crimes of aggression to the court.

In a compromise reached during the negotiation of the Rome Statute in 1998, the crime of aggression was one of the core crimes under the Court's jurisdiction.

The court, however, remains unable to exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as the Statute does not define the crime or set out jurisdictional conditions.

It was decided then that negotiations would be re-opened at this Review Conference, eight years after the formation of ICC.

Christian Wenaweser, the president of the Assembly of States parties to the Rome Statute said that the states have now agreed in principle on the definition but what remains is whether the court can exercise its jurisdiction over the crime.

Negotiators here are still divided on whether it should be the UN Security Council to refer the case of aggression to the court or the court should independently determine that the crime has been committed.

There is debate that given the UN is a political institution and its decision on a crime of aggression is likely to politicize the operation of the court.

Egypt representing the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a group of over 100 states, argued that while it respects the UN Security Council and its decisions, the ICC should remain independent of the Security Council.

"The Non-Aligned Movement continues to underline that the court should be empowered to pronounce on acts of aggression independently, after an agreement is reached on the crime of aggression," a NAM statement read by Egypt's ambassador to The Hague Mahmoud Samy said.

The African states represented by Kenya also took the similar stand while the Europe is struggling to reach a consensus among member states.

An Italian official told the press before the 12-day meeting began on Monday that the debate on the crime of aggression should be deferred to the next review meeting, which probably could occur in seven years.

"The risk of putting aggression into the statute is a risk to politicize the procedures and I think the ICC is still young. It is like putting too much responsibility on a baby," said Emma Bonino, the vice president of the Italian Senate.

Richard Howitt, the head of the European parliament delegation to the conference supported the independence of the court.

"We have made it clear that there should not be an external filter. No external political filter is supported by the European parliament," he said.

"We don't hide the fact that there is tension and internal discussion within the European nations. We expect the Europeans to have consensus among themselves," he added.

The United States which is not a party to the Rome Statute but attended the meeting as an observer showed reluctance to support the push for recognition of the crime of aggression, saying there are a number of issued to be solved.

"We believe that moving forward now on the crime of aggression without genuine consensus could undermine the court," said Stephen Rapp, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes.

Since its establishment in July 2002, the court has launched investigations in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and the Central African Republic, which resulted in a total of 13 arrest warrants including the controversial one of the Sudanese President Omar al Bashir.

ICC currently has jurisdiction in three categories namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and its indictment only targets individuals responsible for committing these crimes.

[Source: By Ronald Ssekandi, Xinhua, Kampala, 02Jun10]

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Crime of Aggression
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