On 31 May 2019, more than 40 members of parliament, government representatives, and senior diplomats convened at a strategic high-level event in Port Vila, Vanuatu, to promote the advancement of international criminal justice in the Pacific Islands region.
The Roundtable was hosted by the Government of Vanuatu and organised by Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), a worldwide network of legislators committed to promoting justice and the rule of law, with the invaluable cooperation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Republic of Korea, and the European Union.
The Pacific Islands Roundtable on the ratification and implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court brought together representatives of the executive and legislative branches of the governments of Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu; senior ICC officials; representatives of the diplomatic community; academic experts and members of civil society, united in their objective to promote international justice, including through the universality of the Rome Statute system.
Universality of the ICC: Moving Closer
“Now, more than ever, it is the time for our great region to join this universal system of international justice and take a decisive stand in the world fora. We are very hopeful that the example of my country will inspire all the remaining States that have still not taken this step,” said Vanuatu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, and External Trade, Ralph Regenvanu.
The universality of the Rome Statute and effectiveness of the ICC system are essential prerequisites for accountability and lasting global deterrence for the most serious crimes of international concern; namely, genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression, which shall not be left unpunished.
Of the 16 independent and self-governing States that comprise the Pacific Islands Forum, only eight are States parties to the Rome Statute and only three have effectively implemented the provisions of the Statute of the ICC on complementarity and cooperation with the Court.
To promote the universality and full implementation of the Rome Statute of the ICC in the region, the Roundtable addressed the following topics:
- The ICC’s relevance for Pacific Island States, particularly with regard to environmental challenges to the oceans and climate vulnerability;
- The obstacles hindering progress toward the accession/ implementation of the Rome Statute and the strategies to overcome these impediments; and
- The importance of the effective implementation of the Rome Statute, with a particular focus on the current status of the implementation process in Vanuatu.
Speaker of the Parliament of Vanuatu, Esmon Saimon, opened the roundtable by emphasising his country’s eagerness to implement the Rome Statute, while acknowledging the lack of domestic capacity to draft such legislation as a significant challenge.
Minister Regenvanu, highlighted the important role of the ICC in preventing atrocities and providing protection and reparations against the gravest violations of basic human rights and called on the States of the Pacific Islands region to join the ICC system.
The roundtable featured informative presentations of high-level panelists, including such authorities as Vanuatu’s Ambassador to the European Union, John Licht; President of the Assembly of States Parties of the ICC, O-Gon Kwon; Mr. Arnold Kiel Loughman, Attorney General of Vanuatu; and Mr. Matias Hellman, External Relations Adviser of the Presidency of the ICC. Experts and civil society representatives also made fruitful interventions, including Dr. Carrie MacDougall, Senior Lecturer at the Melbourne Law School; Dr. Nabil Ahmed, Senior Researcher, and Ms. Shirleen Chin, Head of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships (both from Ecological Defence Integrity); Ms. Kirsten Meersschaert, Director of Programs at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC); and Ms. Frederika Schweighoferova, Senior Legal Officer at PGA.
Actions and the Way Forward
Following the constructive discussions, the participants adopted the Port Vila Plan of Action and committed themselves to utilising their legislative and political prerogatives to advance the process of ratification/ accession, as well as implementation of the Rome Statute, in their respective countries.
Minister of Justice and Community Services of Vanuatu, Don Ken; Professor Song Sang-hyun, former President of the ICC and President of the UNICEF Committee of the Republic of Korea andAmbassador of the Republic of Korea to the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, Kym-gu Kang, closed the session with final remarks reflecting on the progress achieved by dedicated representatives of a region united in its commitment to international justice. Bilateral meetings followed the official program to allow concrete and tailored work toward each country’s future course.
The upcoming months will be essential for the Pacific Islands region to claim its place at the forefront of the fight to advance international justice, ensure respect for human rights, and promote peace worldwide.