Crime of aggression can now be prosecuted by ICC

In a July 17th statement, on the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, Chrystia Freeland, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, praised Canada’s role in establishing the International Criminal Court:

The ICC plays a pivotal role in obtaining justice for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression.  We thank the numerous Canadians who pushed for its creation, knowing that the ICC was necessary to defend international justice and peace.

July 17th was also the day when the ICC’s jurisdiction to prosecute the international crime of aggression came into effect. The Coalition for the International Criminal Court explains that the act of aggression is defined as:

The use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations…. These acts can include, among others, invasion, military occupation, and annexation by the use of force, blockade by the ports or coasts.

However, the unique feature of the Rome Statute is that it establishes individual criminal responsibility for international crimes. This means focusing on political and military leaders and other key figures in the “chain of command”:

The crime of aggression means “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 bad news, however, is that the aggression protocol does not automatically apply to states already party to the Rome Statute but  only to those who have specifically ratified or otherwise accepted the protocol.  Nor is it retroactive in its effect.

As of February 22, 2018, 35 states have ratified the aggression protocol.

Equally troubling, the new protocol has come into effect without key signatories, including those who helped establish the ICC’s Rome Statute. A recent article by the Guardian discusses UK opposition to bringing the aggression protocol into force:

It’s ironic that Britain, which stood so courageously against Hitler, should refuse to ratify the international law against aggression.

Canada, for its part, also has yet to accept and ratify the aggression protocol. This is a shocking development for a country that praises its role in establishing the court.

Until Canada takes the necessary steps to accept the aggression protocol, our words of praise for the International Criminal Court will ring hollow. Conversely, ratifying the aggression protocol would significantly bolster Canada’s flagging campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021-22. – RI President Peggy Mason

Clink here for the full discussion of the crime of Aggression by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.

For the full article discussing the UK failure to ratify see: ICC crime of aggression comes into effect without key signatories (Owen Bowcott, The Guardian, 17 July 2018).

Photo credit: Wikimedia (Bush and Blair at the White House in 2004)

Tags: aggression, aggression protocol, Canada, crime of aggression, ICC, International Criminal Court, Rome Statute, UN Charter, United Nations