African Withdrawals Mask the Real Issue at the Assembly of States Parties 15
[Matt Brown holds an LL.M in Public International Law from Leiden University and is currently a Defence Intern for Jovica Stanišić before the MICT and worked as an intern for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court during the Assembly of States Parties. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CICC, and he held no involvement in the budget negotiating process.]
The backdrop to the 15th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) has been dominated by the announced intent to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) by South Africa, Burundi and The Gambia. Prior to the ASP, there was almost exclusive attention on the withdrawal issue and whether discussion during the ASP would pave the way towards a reversal of these decisions to leave the Court. The importance of these withdrawals, and the need to evaluate the legitimacy of the arguments put forward by these States, cannot be underestimated, but almost under the radar, an issue of arguably equal importance has failed to garner the same detail of scrutiny and reaction. The financial strangulation of the Court by States Parties is if anything a far greater threat to the Court’s ability to fulfill its mandate than the withdrawals of three states.
To provide some context, the proposed budget put forward by the Court for 2016 was €153,328,200, (p187) which ultimately became an approved budget of €139,960,600* (p14). This demonstrates the gulf in stance, between the organs of the ICC and States, who although vocal in their support for the Court at the ASP podium, become remarkably restrained in contributing financially to the success of the institution. An initiative by eleven States, including Canada, Colombia France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom to limit the Court’s budget, reflects how the Court’s biggest financial contributors are seeking to restrict the ability of the Court to expand its operations – cynically one might say into more politically sensitive situations, including Afghanistan.
This ‘dragging of the heels’ is likewise seen in comments by the Committee on Budget and Finance on 28 October who ‘noted with concern the large amount of outstanding contributions’ – €17.88 million (12.73 per cent) of the 2016 approved budget. In addition to that, outstanding contributions from previous years stood at €15.95 million, meaning ‘total outstanding contributions, including the regular budget, the Contingency Fund and interest on the host State loan, stood at €34.16 million as of 15 September 2016.’
A similar pattern has emerged this year, the Court for the 2017 budget proposed a figure of €150,238,000, (p7) but ultimately the approved budget came to only €144,587,300 (p1). Although this budget represents a rise of €4,626,700, (3.30 per cent) this overlooks the natural growth of the Court’s operations, and its increased operations as we move into 2017. Compared to 2016, the number of preliminary examinations rises to ten, with Honduras and Georgia being closed or moving to investigation, and new examinations opening in Burundi, the self-referral of the Gabonese Republic, and the reconsideration of The Comoros situation. The self-referral by the Gabon, falling after release of the proposed budget, highlights the strain that unexpected referrals can place upon the Court’s budget.
With respect to situations, in the proposed budget for 2016, the OTP outlined its expectation to be dealing with ‘twenty-two cases in eight situations’. For 2017, there is an increase to ten situations, (p10) which results in the continued increase in courtroom activity from 200 court hearings in 2015, to a projected 500 hearings for 2017 (p48). As the Court grows, the associated cost of its prior and current docket also creates a ‘snowball effect’. Time will be needed in 2017 for the progression of reparation proceedings in Lubanga and Katanga, alongside hearing the appeal in the Bemba trial, meaning that it is not just future investigations to consider in light of tightening resources, but also the progression of its existing caseload.
To provide some context on these figures and to illustrate the concern, the bi-annual budget for the ICTY in 2010-2011 was approximately €214,000,000 and the ICTR operated with a healthy bi-annual budget of €176,074,077 for the same period. Per year, these two institutions focusing on one ‘situation’ each worked with roughly two-thirds the budget of the ICC, an institution that from next year will be preoccupied with ten situations. International justice, however expensive it might be, was clearly not unaffordable to the major powers, who generously increased the ICTY budget from its humble beginnings of approximately €200,000.
A balanced assessment of the issue, of course reveals that for the 1,479,301,700 spent by the ICC since 2002, there have ‘only’ been four convictions (eight if we include the additional Article 70 convictions). Weighing in at €369,825,425 per core crimes conviction, if we were to transpose that figure to the ICTY, then the 83 convictions would have cost the ICTY €30.61 billion, a figure which is approximately €28 billion above the actual cost (p13). A few rebuttals can be advanced however, to illustrate that this ‘price per conviction’ comparison masks some of the institutional differences between the ICC, ad-hoc tribunals and domestic proceedings.
First, tribunals including the ICTY, ICTR, SCSL and ECCC have the upfront and immediate outlay of establishing investigations for their respective situations, once established and having prosecuted those responsible for the alleged crimes, the costs of the institution can plateau and then recede, rather than increase, as seen in both the ICTY and ICTR and now their move to the MICT. In contrast, as the ICC has 124 States Parties, and is involved in ten different situations, the ‘start-up costs’ that these other Courts faced are borne by the ICC each time it begins work in a new situation, including field costs, interpretation and translation costs.
Second, neither the ICTY nor the ICTR provided any opportunity for victims to present their testimony before the Tribunal outside of serving as a witness. The much broader role for victims at the ICC, through the Legal Representative for Victims and the establishment of the Trust Fund for Victims which has itself seen a 15.3 per cent increase this year, illustrates that the ICC (for better or for worse) encompasses more than a narrow conception of the trial of the accused and their subsequent detention / acquittal.
Third, the ICC and the ICTY / ICTR emerged from two very different contexts, the 1990’s Tribunals were born with immediate jurisdiction granted by virtue of the Court’s establishment. The ICC, on the other hand, experiences a far more conservative approach to case selection, the processes of preliminary examination and complementarity means that the Court is not designed to have its success measured purely by the number of cases it completes, but also whether its presence can encourage effective domestic prosecutions, and some may argue serve as a deterrent. A simple data comparison of successful prosecutions to illustrate effectiveness therefore ignores that the ‘objective’ by which effectiveness is measured against, differs between the three organisations.
The budget issue is in essence not new, but it is vital to remind ourselves that the ‘colonial critique’ or so-called ‘African bias’ that received so much attention at the ASP is a multi-faceted issue. For the OTP to be able to expand the number and geographic spread of its investigations, there has to be the adequate funding to support it – thus it raises deep questions about the reluctance of certain States to increase the Court’s budget, at a time when the OTP appears to be preparing the ground for an investigation in Afghanistan. There is an available contingency fund, which allowed the OTP to open their 2016 investigation into Georgia (p10), a cost now incorporated into the 2017 budget; but at €7,000,000 (p169), the contingency fund is not designed to cover the costs of entire unplanned investigations.
In closing, and to use the United Kingdom as but just one example, the opening and closing lines of their general debate address highlights the point that States more than ever are unwilling to back up their rhetoric with adequate financial support.continued support for, and commitment to the International Criminal Court’, only to qualify this by expressing their commitment to ‘working with others to ensure the budget is as streamlined as possible.’
The withdrawals from the ICC were a set back for the Court’s desire to be universal, but for all the hyperbole of dialogue in the fight against impunity that dominated the ASP, the internal contradictions of States Parties own positions lays bare the fact, that whilst others might not be withdrawing, support for the Court is found not just at the ASP podium, but also in its financing. The wriggling away by States Parties from funding the Court raises even more interesting questions as to their justification – especially at a time when the Court appears destined to broaden its horizons.
*For clarity – all budget references include interest and the principal repayment (installments) for the host State loan for the permanent premises. – Other budget references may vary.