[Dr. Aaron Mattais a Senior Researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Rule of Law Program. Tom Buitelaar is a Researcher with the Global Governance Program at the Institute. With many thanks to Thomas Koerner, Rod Rastan, Dan Saxon and Eamon Aloyo for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this commentary. The views expressed here do not represent the views of the Hague Institute for Global Justice. ]
Ukraine is engulfed in a complex and bloody conflict that has cost nearly 8,000 lives and generated over 1.4 million internally displaced persons. The conflict has erupted in different areas of the country and in different forms, from civil unrest and revolution to alleged Russian aggression and illegal annexation of Crimea. The MH17 incident is of particular importance now due to the recent release of the Dutch Safety Board Report on the causes of the crash, which concluded that the plane was hit by a BUK-missile, ruling out other options. Moreover, the UNSC resolution 2166 stipulates that those directly or indirectly responsible for the downing of MH17 must be held accountable and brought to justice. But how can the International Community respond to these challenges and bring those responsible of international crimes and serious human rights violations to justice?
In this regard, on September 8, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin lodged a second ad hoc Declaration (.pdf) under article 12(3) of the Rome Statute accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed on Ukraine’s territory since 20 February 2014. This provision can be used by non-state parties to the Rome Statute – Ukraine signed the Statute, but has not ratified it. This declaration was preceded by the declaration lodged (.pdf) on 17 April 2014, which triggered the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed during the events on Maidan square between November 2013 and February 2014, and prompted Prosecutor Ms. Fatou Bensouda to open a preliminary investigation.
With the second declaration, the Ukrainian government postpones the ratification of the Rome Statute, choosing to involve the ICC in a more ad-hoc manner. This approach can be explained by looking both at the legal and political obstacles to ratification.
The main legal obstacle for ratification arises from certain incompatibilities (.pdf) between the Rome Statute and the Ukrainian Constitution. In July 2001, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court (Case N.1-35/2001 [.pdf]) ruled that “some of the Rome Statute provisions were in conflict with the Constitution of Ukraine”. Article 124 of the Ukrainian Constitution states that the administration of justice is the exclusive competence of the national courts and that judicial functions cannot be delegated to other bodies or officials. Therefore, Ukraine would have to amend its constitution in order to ratify the Rome Statute – as required by Article 9 of the Ukrainian Constitution (.pdf). While for example some countries like Brazil ratified the Rome Statute first on 2002 and amended their constitution later in 2004 – as provided by Article 5(3) of the Brazilian Constitution (.pdf) – this option is not viable for Ukraine.
An interesting question is whether the declarations would also be incompatible with the Ukrainian Constitution. On the one hand, this issue would not affect the legal obligation of a state to a Treaty, pursuant to article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (.pdf) (which states that “a party may not invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty”), or the ICC’s competence per se. On the other hand, this might have legal or practical unintended consequences in the domestic legal order if the Court’s potential decisions, warrants of arrest or requests for judicial cooperation cannot be given effect, or if their lawfulness is challenged at the domestic level.
Besides the legal obstacles there are also several political challenges to ratification. First of all, rule of law reforms—such as those required by ratification of the Statute and the implementation of its cooperation requirements—have shown to be a serious challenge in post-Soviet states. Because of these difficulties, ratification of the Rome Statute was not necessarily seen as a political priority. Secondly, until 2014, there had been no imminent threat of serious civil or international military conflict. Most importantly, armed conflict with potential Russian 'involvement' was unthinkable due to the historical, cultural and economic ties between the two countries. Moreover, Ukraine’s government is being increasingly overwhelmed with numerous urgent challenges, particularly since the conflict erupted. These include securing financial resources to avoid economic collapse and fighting corruption as a prerequisite for obtaining international financial aid. Currently, the main reform priorities have been tax reform, anti-corruption, and decentralization (the latter as part of the Minsk Agreements package). Therefore, amendments to Article 124 of the Constitution are only foreseen for the second phase of reforms planned for next year.
In addition to these legal and political challenges