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(Brussels) - By adopting a revised Common Position on the International Criminal Court (ICC), the European Union (EU) reinforced its support for international justice.
The Common Position is the legally binding instrument of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. It expresses all EU Member States' willingness to support the ICC and cooperate to increase its effectiveness. The EU's bolstering of international justice comes as the ICC Prosecutor takes office today in The Hague, while the Bush administration steps up its efforts to exempt American citizens from the court's jurisdiction.  
"The European Union's commitment to take a more active role will help to safeguard the ICC as it begins its vital work," said Lotte Leicht, director of Human Rights Watch's Brussels office. "The new EU Common Position is an eloquent rejoinder to U.S. pressure on weaker states."  
Because the ICC treaty entered into force a year ago, the EU resolved to adapt its Common Position in order to meet the new challenges confronting the ICC. Now that the court has elected its eighteen judges and Prosecutor, the EU has decided to take measures to strengthen its effective cooperation with the ICC. At the same time, the EU is responding to recent efforts by the Bush administration to weaken the court.  
The new common position includes a first reference to the U.S. bilateral immunity agreements and draws the attention of third states to the EU Council Conclusions of September 30, 2002 when entering negotiations with the United States. The future and candidate EU states also associated themselves with the renewed Common Position.  
The United States has recently placed heavy pressure on EU future and candidate states, as well as aspiring countries, notably in the Balkans. However, Slovenia has cited its desire to comply with the EU Guiding Principles as a justification for not bowing to U.S. pressure. Croatia has taken the same approach.  
"The Slovenian and Croatian examples highlight the importance of EU support, particularly when such pressure is coming from the United States," said Leicht. "We encourage future EU and candidate countries to adhere to a principled position based on their treaty obligations."  
The United States has criticized the EU for influencing the decision of future EU members about signing bilateral immunity agreements. Washington is threatening to withhold military and financial assistance from countries that do not sign such agreements.  
"The EU, by contrast, is standing firm by reminding states that these bilateral agreements run counter to the Rome treaty and that states parties should not enter agreements that would weaken it," Leicht said.  
On September 30, 2002, the EU adopted its Guiding Principles stipulating that the U.S. immunity agreements in their original version "would be inconsistent with ICC states parties' obligations...."  
To date, 90 countries have ratified the Rome Statute, which entered into force on July 1, 2002. The ICC is the first permanent world court that will have jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It will intervene to investigate and prosecute such crimes only in the event state parties are "unwilling or unable" to do so. The court was inaugurated on March 11, 2003 when its first 18 judges were sworn in. The court will officially begin its operations today when the first ICC Chief Prosecutor, Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina, has been sworn in.

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