Member States of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have agreed on what constitutes the crime of aggression, a long-running source of contention in international law, after nearly one decade of discussion. Nations agreed to amend the Rome Statute, which set up the Court, to define the crime 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.”
Under the resolution adopted at the end of the two-week-long ICC review conference in Kampala, Uganda, on Friday, blockades of ports or coasts of a State by armed forces of another State, as well as an invasion or attack by troops of one State on the territory of another, are considered as acts of aggression under the statute.
Nations agreed that the ICC can exercise jurisdiction over crimes of aggression, but only over those committed one year after 30 States Parties have ratified the newly-made amendment.
This is will not happen until at least 2017, when States meet against to review the amendment, according to the new resolution adopted in the Ugandan capital.
It also noted that if the ICC Prosecutor wishes to move forward with an investigation of possible cases, he or she will take the case to the Security Council. Once that body has determined that an act of aggression has taken place, the Prosecutor will move forward with a probe.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement issued by his spokesperson, welcomed what he described as “the historic agreement” on the definition of aggression.
“The compromise text is a significant step forward in the fight against impunity and towards an age of accountability,” the statement noted.
The Rome Statute, adopted in 1998, included the crime of aggression – along with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – as the four categories of crimes over which it has jurisdiction. But it said the ICC could not exercise its rights in that area until a definition had been agreed upon.
So far 111 countries have become parties to the Statute, while 37 others have signed but not yet ratified it. But some of the world's largest and most powerful countries, including China, India, Russia and the United States, have not joined.
At the start of the Kampala conference, Mr. Ban underlined that a new “age of accountability” is replacing the “old era of impunity.”
The ICC, he said, is now “permanent, increasingly powerful, casting a long shadow. There is no going back.”
In this new age, those committing the worst of human crimes – be they rank-and-file soldiers or top political leaders – “will be held responsible,” Mr. Ban emphasized.
Former Serbian president Slobodan Milocevic and former Liberian leader Charles Taylor are among those who have already been called to justice. “Not long ago,” he said, “this would have been unimaginable.”
But for the ICC to have the reach it needs, it must have universal support. “Only then will perpetrators have no place to hide,” the Secretary-General said.