MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/16 June) – At the end of their two-week-long conference in Kampala, Uganda on Friday, member states of the International Criminal Court (ICC) agreed to the definition of aggression as “the planning, preparation, initiation, or execution, by a person in a position effectively to exercise control over or to direct the political or military action of a state, of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.”
The definition amended the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC. It now considers blockades of ports and coasts of a state by another state as acts of aggression aside from the more overt military measures like invasion. Another significant development is the agreement allowing the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over crimes of aggression.
It’s premature to celebrate, however, despite UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s elation over what he called “the historic agreement” on the definition of aggression. Like other international agreements, the amended Rome Statute faces daunting limitations and has to make do with whatever little progress it can achieve from time to time.
One of the chief limitations is acceptability of the Statute and willingness to submit to the authority of the ICC in the event that a state files a case of aggression against another state. At least 30 member states have to ratify the amendment before it can take effect and the ICC can only exercise jurisdiction over crimes of aggression committed a year after the required number of ratification is attained.
Theoretically, therefore, a state may launch acts of aggression now against its neighbor(s) and not worry about prosecution. On top of that, the ICC Prosecutor will have to ask the UN Security Council to determine if an act of aggression really existed before proceeding with an investigation. This shortcoming did not escape Ban’s attention, although he described the amendment as “a significant step forward in the fight against impunity and towards an age of accountability.”
Consider too that some of the usual culprits of military aggression are not parties to the Statute. The United States and Russia signed but have not ratified. China and emerging Asian military powers like rivals India and Pakistan are not even signatories to the agreement.
Of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), only Cambodia has ratified the Statute. Thailand and the Philippines signed but have not ratified. The rest are non-signatories.
Among the Middle Eastern countries, only Jordan has ratified. Eleven others, including Israel and Syria, only signed. Israel recently came under fire for raiding a vessel on a humanitarian mission to the Occupied Territories.
Curiously, the Holy See (Vatican) is among the six European states that did not sign the Statute. The rest are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Turkey.
The reluctance, if not refusal, of some states, including the big powers, to ratify or accede to the Rome Statute shows the inherent difficulties faced by international agreements dealing with contentious issues. Too often, the only way to get through the bottleneck during negotiations is to forge compromises, at times to the point of subverting the purpose of an agreement itself.
In the case of the Statute, the power given to the Security Council might prove to be the Statute’s own undoing. Remember how the Council played deaf and blind to the American invasion of Iraq. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)