Introducing a Symposium on Ljubljana – The Hague Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance: Critical Reflections

Introducing a Symposium on Ljubljana – The Hague Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance: Critical Reflections

[Priya Pillai is an international lawyer, heads the Asia Justice Coalition secretariat and is a contributing editor at Opinio Juris.]

She participated in the MLAT negotiations in Ljubljana, Slovenia on behalf of the Asia Justice Coalition. All views are personal.

On 26 May 2023, the Ljubljana – The Hague Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of the Crime of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes, and other International Crimes (MLA Treaty) was adopted. Led by a ‘Core Group’ of States —Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands, Senegal, Slovenia, and Mongolia – the initiative grained momentum after its start in 2011. After consultations and multiple drafts, the stage was set to negotiations to kick off in Slovenia in May. After two weeks of at times fraught negotiations in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the adoption of this treaty was the culmination of a long process to reach the finish line.  

The MLA Treaty is a significant milestone in international cooperation for international crimes. The treaty prioritizes national ownership over the investigation and prosecution of atrocity crimes – genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes – and strengthens the principle of complementarity. There are legal gaps that this treaty fills, and it is important that we understand the context of these negotiations as well as the outcome. I was privileged to speak at the opening ceremony of the Diplomatic Conference on 15 May, and I highlighted the value of the MLA Treaty: firstly, as an additional tool in the toolbox to tackle impunity; second, its value towards greater international cooperation, globally as well as regionally; third, its relevance to Asia; and last, but not the least, the significance of civil society to the formulation of the treaty, as well as the next steps.   

While the ink on the treaty has barely dried, this is an ideal opportunity to take a step back, reflect on the two weeks at Ljubljana – the outcome, but also the process – in relation to this particular legal instrument, but also on its impact further afield. 

This symposium has been curated to include perspectives from participants who were in Ljubljana and contributed to the discussions at the negotiating table. In addition to states, there were civil society ‘observers’, who, per the rules of the conference, played an extremely active role in the discussions – at the plenary sessions as well as in the working groups. The majority of the contributions to this symposium are from representatives of civil society who played an invaluable part in influencing the final shape of the treaty.  

The legal issues that surfaced and that had to be vigorously defended were the scope of the treaty, victims’ rights, aut dedere aut judicare, to name a few. In Ljubljana, there was also a concerted effort of some states to water down the treaty text, and had these efforts succeeded, this would have had serious ramifications, far beyond the MLA Treaty. 

In this symposium, some of the topics our contributors tackle are: 

  • The prospects and potential of the MLAT in relation to international accountability writ large;
  • The scope of the Convention;
  • Aut dedere aut judicare;
  • Victims’ rights (including the right to reparation and the role of asset recovery);
  • Role of civil society;
  • Next steps – ratification and adoption of the treaty.

This joint Asia Justice Coalition – Opinio Juris symposium is to introduce you to some key aspects of the negotiations and to provide you with a flavour of the fortnight of intense discussions in Ljubljana, that have resulted in the ‘Ljubljana – The Hague Convention’. 

A list of contributions is listed below, with links:

Priya Pillai, Introducing a Symposium on Ljubljana – The Hague Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance: Critical Reflections

Vaios Koutroulis, A New Tool in the Fight Against Impunity for Core International Crimes

Raquel Saavedra and Lina Baddour, Closing the Impunity Gap: The Prospects and Potential of the Ljubljana-The Hague Convention

Pamela Capizzi and Hugo Relva, A Historic Step Forward in the Fight Against Impunity for International Crimes

Bruno Biazatti, Victims’ Rights under the Ljubljana – The Hague Convention: Revisiting the Travaux Préparatoires

Ezéchiel Amani Cirimwami, The aut dedere aut judicare Obligation

Julie Bardèche, A Giant with Feet of Clay? Victims’ Right to Reparation in the MLA Convention

Danaé van der Straten Ponthoz and Leanna Burnard, Paving the Way for Asset Recovery and Reparations

Frederika Schweighoferova, Fulfilling the Potential of this Landmark Treaty

Jennifer Keene-McCann, Wanted: ‘Widest Adoption Possible’ of the Ljubljana-The Hague Mutual Legal Assistance Convention

Priya Pillai, Lessons Learned: Civil Society Engagement in Treaty Negotiations

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