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Session of the German lower house of Parliament, Bundestag, in Berlin, February 1, 2018. © 2018 Reuters/Axel Schmidt
(Berlin) – The German parliament adopted a cross-party resolution on June 28, 2018, urging the government to increase its active support for the International Criminal Court (ICC), Human Rights Watch said today. The 20th anniversary of the court’s founding document, the Rome Statute, is coming up on July 17.
The resolution had support from members from the German Christian Democratic Party (CDU)/Christian-Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Green Party (Bündnis90/Die Grünen). The broad support underscores the court’s relevance and importance.
“Parliament’s resolution is an important signal of Germany’s ongoing commitment to the global fight against impunity,” said Wolfgang Büttner, senior press and advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch. “Foreign Minister Heiko Maas should heed this call and use the 20th anniversary of the ICC treaty to renew Germany’s leading role in supporting the court.”
The ICC is the first permanent global court mandated to bring to justice people responsible for serious international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. The ICC has 123 member countries and its prosecutor has opened investigations in 10 countries.
The resolution urges the government to work to strengthen the ICC, including by encouraging more countries to join the court and by ensuring that it has sufficient financial support. With the need for the ICC clearer than ever, given the alarming human rights crises in many parts of the world, these steps are critically important to widen victims’ access to justice, Human Rights Watch said.
The Rome Statute was negotiated over several years starting in 1995 and finished after a tumultuous successful session in Rome on July 17, 1998. The court began work in 2003.
Germany, in particular through the support of then-foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, played a leading role in the drafting of the ICC statute. The German delegation in Rome stood up for an effective and independent ICC. Germany’s stance generated a threat from the US to withdraw its forces from Germany. Germany withstood the pressure and 121 countries voted to adopt the treaty, while only seven voted against it. The US has not joined the court.
But the court needs greater support from its current 123 member countries including Germany, Human Rights Watch said. The court relies on the cooperation of member countries to make arrests. It has 15 outstanding arrest warrants, limiting its ability to deliver justice.
Germany, as other ICC states parties, should increase its efforts to help develop arrest strategies. In some cases, this could include providing operational assistance. In other cases, Germany should press ICC member countries that fail to live up to their responsibilities to carry out arrests when those named in the warrants are on their soil.
With a growing docket, the court also needs financial resources, as the resolution recognizes. The court’s member countries, which provide the financing, should expect that resources will be spent efficiently and in an accountable manner. But the demands on the court are such that it needs to work in far more places and on far more cases than it currently has resources for.
Germany has voluntarily donated to important court activities, like its Trust Fund for Victims. It is one of the court’s biggest funders. But in recent years, it has also been part of a small group of ICC member countries that has insisted on arbitrary limits to budgetary growth. This restrictive approach is increasingly undermining the ICC’s work, Human Rights Watch said.
The resolution also calls on the German government to consider what steps could be taken to expedite proceedings at the ICC. While the court’s judges have been working to improve the efficiency of proceedings, there is certainly room for improvement in the court’s performance, Human Rights Watch said. Weak investigations in some of its earliest cases led to charges being thrown out. The current ICC prosecutor since taking office in 2012 committed to strengthening investigations and prosecutions.
“German leadership on the ICC when its treaty was being developed was decisive and principled,” Büttner said. “Germany should return to firm political and financial support for the court, and its much-needed mandate to deliver justice for victims of the world’s worst crimes.”

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