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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 147
December 12, 2009

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Ratify Rome Statute to fight crimes against humanity

THE International Criminal Court (ICC), governed by the Rome Statute, is a treaty-based international judicial body to try the crimes of very serious nature, including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, to uphold human rights and democracy. Once the ICC is asked to try and adjudicate a certain crime against humanity by a member state, the ICC has the power of restitution, compensation and repatriation of victims of violence. The ICC lacks enforcement power and requires the cooperation of the state's power.

Its seat is at The Hague in the Netherlands. Although the Court's expenses are funded primarily by States Parties, it also receives voluntary contributions from governments, international organisations, individuals, corporations and other entities. The ICC also has strong protections for due process, procedural safeguards to protect it from abuse, and furthers victims' rights and gender justice under international law.

The ICC is a court of last resort. It will not act if a case is investigated or prosecuted by a national judicial system unless the national proceedings are not genuine, for example if formal proceedings were undertaken solely to shield a person from criminal responsibility. In addition, the ICC only tries those accused of the gravest crimes.

On December 7, 2009, a rights group Odhikar and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) jointly organised a workshop on the 'Ratification of the Rome Statute by Bangladesh' at Brac Centre Inn in the city. The president of the International Criminal Court, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, Justice Golam Rabbani, Justice Shamsuddin Ahmed Chowdhury, Dr. Ahmed Ziauddin, Convener of Asian Network for the ICC, Mr Muhammad Zamir, Former Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador among elite members of the judiciary and civil society were present on the occasion.

In his statement, ICC President Sang-Hyun Song said that he came on a mission to persuade Bangladesh to join the ICC within March 10, 2010 so that the country can join the Review Conference in May.

Justice Shamsuddin Ahmed Chowdhury said the ratification of the Rome Statute by Bangladesh will prevent those having ambition to grab the state power extra-constitutionally. During discussion, Dr Ahmed Ziauddin, convenor of Asian Network for the ICC, said that the foreign minister expressed the government's commitment to ratification.

Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director, Transparency International Bangladesh, said that ICC has not played its due role in Iraq, Afghanistan and Georgia. Law Commission Chairman Justice Md Abdur Rashid also spoke at the workshop.

Responding to the government's desire to bring the trial of war crimes committed during the war of liberation in 1971 under the ICC jurisdiction, ICC President Song said that it was not possible under the present Rome Statute keeping with the basic criminal law principle of non-retroactivity. However, once the Rome Statute has been ratified, Bangladesh could propose an amendment in this regard as then Bangladesh would be an ICC member and would be able to participate in it's Assembly where issues regarding amendments are often discussed.

While speaking at the workshop Sang-Hyun Song said, "The ICC has no room to intervene in war crimes committed in 1971". The judicial system and legal experts of Bangladesh are adequate with considerable competence and knowledge to deal with the war crimes of 1971, he said. If Bangladesh ratifies the Rome Statute, it would get technical assistance from the International Criminal Court in holding trial of the 1971 war crimes. The ICC can provide any training to the prosecutors involved in the trial proceedings of the war crimes and provide logistic support to Bangladesh.

The Rome Statute is a landmark in the history of international law. The entry into force of the ICC treaty on 1 July 2002 created the first permanent and independent judicial body that would prosecute crimes of the most serious nature -- genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and, once defined, the crime of aggression. The International Criminal Court now stands as the most important mechanism for human rights protection and justice for victims of the most grievous international crimes.

There are various factors given by Asian governments for non-ratification. One such misconception is that the ICC is an infringement on national sovereignty. To the contrary, the jurisdiction of the ICC will be complementary to national courts, which means that the Court will only act when countries themselves are unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute. The ICC itself does not have any enforcement power. It is entirely dependent on the will of the member state government or Security Council. The Rome Statute does not respect official immunities from prosecution, especially for the head of state; this provides a system of check and balance.

The reasons that for the slow ratifications in the Asia region are the very reasons why people campaign for the Rome Statute. National sovereignty must not be a cover for crimes and human rights abuses must be accounted for. Geopolitics is all the more reason why norms and standards must be put in place. There are ongoing processes in countries like Laos, Nepal, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and China. Asia is finally joining the world in marching toward universal ratification of the Rome treaty.

Prompt ratification will enable Bangladesh to participate in the Review Conference of the ICC, and thus engage in the process leading to the adoption of a definition for the crime of aggression and celebrate the advances in international law with other states parties. Moreover, as a State Party, Bangladesh will also be able to participate in judiciary and other elections at the Court.

If Bangladesh ratifies the Statute, it will enable the country to protect human rights and establish justice in this regard. Bangladesh signed the Statute in 1999. A total of 110 countries have ratified it so far. ICC was adopted in July 1998 by 120 countries and the Rome Statute came into force on July 1, 2002 with ratification by 60 countries.

From Law Desk.


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