Africa: Assembly of States Parties to Focus On Cooperation, Budget and Elections

The Hague — The Assembly of States Parties of the International Criminal Court opened Wednesday in The Hague, following a ceremony attended by Dutch Queen Beatrix to mark ten years of the ICC.

Speaking during the ceremony, Assembly of States Parties President Tiina Interlmann said the ICC had "changed the fundamental structure of international relations" and that "the Court will not make it without (...) State Party support and cooperation".

Cooperation is expected to be one of the main themes during this eleventh session of the Assembly, which will continue until November 22. The 121 countries that have ratified the ICC Statute are also expected to approve the Court's 2013 budget and elect several officials, including a Deputy Prosecutor. Three candidates have been put forward by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda: Raija Toiviainen of Finland, Paul Rutledge of Australia and James Stewart of Canada.

Five months after taking up her post, Bensouda announced five priorities for the period 2013-2015. Whilst defending the ICC prosecution's record of the first ten years, she clearly also recognizes shortcomings, saying she wants to ensure quality, impartial investigations, better analyses and prosecutions. She expressed her wish to continue giving priority to sexual crimes and crimes against children, and to strengthen the way the Court works alongside national jurisdictions ("complementarity").

Bensouda also said she wants investigators to stay longer on the ground, and for procedures to move faster. She recalled that Congolese militia leader Lubanga had spent six years in jail before being convicted for war crimes and sentenced to 14 years.

With regard to preliminary investigations under way in Columbia, Guinea, Georgia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Honduras, Republic of Korea and Mali, Bensouda promised decisions on the next steps in 2013.She said preliminary examinations also help deter further crimes and encourage prosecutions at national level. She stressed her support for complementarity and called for "real national prosecutions to fight against impunity".

Bensouda urged ICC member states to adopt the proposed budget. "I have been told that I can ask anything from States except money," she said with humour.

Since taking office five months ago, the Prosecutor has visited Senegal, Namibia, South Africa, Nigeria, Côte d'Ivoire and Kenya. Bensouda again reminded Kenya of its obligation to cooperate with her office.

She also urged states to cooperate in arresting fugitives. "Victims dream of the greatest day in international justice: the day when States Parties will discuss and plan strategies for arresting fugitives," she said. There are ten individuals wanted by the ICC who are still at large.

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