Who's next at the ICC?

26 September 2017 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Every few weeks it seems one NGO or another is lobbying to get its issue onto the agenda of the ICC’s prosecutor. It’s a tribute to the way that the International Criminal Court has come to be seen as an avenue for justice. But it also means that there’s a lot of noise, without necessarily much action. 

Take this month’s crop of ‘the ICC must investigate’ news: Venezuela, for example, and, of course, Burundi. That one’s especially urgent, because Bujumbura has withdrawn from the Rome Statute, so – because that takes a year to come into effect – 27 October is THE deadline.

Of course, other countries are mentioned regularly – and some are already on the Office of the Prosecutor’s list like Afghanistan. Back in November prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said a decision – ongoing since 2003 – on whether to actually launch an investigation was “imminent”. July this year , less so because of “a large amount of new information from the government of Afghanistan that could influence” the decision. Of course, everyone knows the stakes are high here – US troops and even the CIA could be involved.

In November, the latest preliminary examination list will come out. According to the prosecutor’s office’s strategic plan nine preliminary examinations should be going on every year. And, there should be one new situation under investigation and six (ongoing) active investigations.

One country that’s been mentioned several times, but never made it to the spotlight is Mexico. Listening to the range of human rights NGO’s who presented their investigation in July, when visiting The Hague it was clear that the human rights situation in many parts of the country is dire. But also, that the NGO’s could argue “the existence of a policy” within the state that “both permits and actively supports attacks on the civil population”.

The state in question, Coahuila, provided evidence over a seven-year period, during which, the authors said state authorities responsible for law enforcement committed crimes against humanity. They had based their submission to the ICC on 500 cases of arbitrary detention and events such as a massacre of hundreds of residents of the town of Allende in 2011.

Mexico is synonymous with violence related to drugs cartels. But the Mexican NGO’s argued that this was not “sporadic violence” nor “solely attributable to drug cartels”. Instead they said, “evidence suggests that both local law enforcement and the then-governor were aware of what was going to happen”.

This isn’t the first time FIDH has provided investigative material about Mexico to the ICC. Maybe this time they’ll be the lucky ones.


Should the court be surprised if everyone wants it to act?

No. But Mexico is typical of many of the places where there have been injustices. The evidence stacks up. As Ariana García, legal representative of United Families in the Search and Location of Missing Persons, said, it’s “not easy for me to admit that the justice system just doesn’t work”.

Does that make the opening of an ICC preliminary examination “unavoidable” as the report argues? Carrie Comer the then representative of FIDH certainly argued so “If nothing happens we will think there are double standards”.

Whichever country the OTP picks to add to the list of preliminary examinations– there were ten last year- and whichever it moves into an investigation, it’s going to be criticised by someone.


Families of disappeared persons, murder victims and victims of human rights abuses during a visit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Coahuila Mexico in September 2015 (Photo: Flickr/Ginnette Riquelme/CIDH)

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