Ambassadors were briefed by the chairman of the UN’s highest court, the UN chief for human rights, and a law professor from the University of Oxford, who called for the adoption of a convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity.
A draft developed by the International Law Commission, an expert body of the UN, is currently under consideration by the General Assembly.
Ready for use
“The adoption of a convention on crimes against humanity would be one way to promote accountability for violations of some of the most fundamental obligations in international law,” said Judge Joan E. Donoghue, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) .
“The Court stands ready to rule on any disputes within which it would have jurisdiction under such a treaty.”
The ICJ, known as the World Court, settles legal disputes submitted to the ICJ by countries, and its decisions are binding. However, she said the Court must convince national governments that it has jurisdiction to proceed.
Recognizing the jurisdiction of the ICJ
The ICJ can consider claims and possible counterclaims if both parties recognize its jurisdiction, said Judge Donoghue, speaking via videoconference from The Hague, in the Netherlands, where the Court is based.
In other cases, jurisdiction is limited, such as when clauses in certain international treaties – for example, on genocide or racial discrimination – have been invoked as a basis for jurisdiction.
“Today, when armed conflict and mass atrocities continue to cause human suffering in various parts of the world, I take this opportunity to remind Member States that the Court can only promote accountability to the extent that Member States grant it jurisdiction to do this,” she said.
Filling the gap
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for the strengthening of the normative and institutional framework to further strengthen the legal basis for accountability and justice efforts.
“The adoption of a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Humanity would, in my view, fill an important gap in the current international framework and facilitate international cooperation in this area,” she said from Geneva.
Relevant treaties that provide the jurisdictional basis for accountability deserve universal adherence, she added, and should be ratified by all states.
They include the Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Ms Bachelet encouraged all states to accept the mandatory jurisdiction of the ICC “in the general interest of the entire international community”.
The UN Security Council’s support for independent and impartial investigations, justice and accountability is essential, she added, while stressing the importance of putting victims at the heart of these efforts.
“This is not only the right thing to do, in recognition of the victims in whose name these trials were made. But it also helps identify and address the circumstances that led to the serious violations in the first place,” she said.
Also deal with aggression
According to Professor Dapo Akande of Oxford University, the adoption of the draft treaty will “bring the framework for the punishment of crimes against humanity to a level comparable to that of genocide and war crimes”.
Mr Akande further stated that the focus on accountability is incomplete as the fourth international crime – aggression – is often not addressed.
“In order to improve the normative framework regarding accountability for all international crimes, states should consider ratifying the amendments to the crime of aggression so that the ICC can exercise jurisdiction over the highest international crime,” he said.