Friday, April 20, 2012

Ambassador Rapp Speaks at Columbia on the Lubanga Verdict and U.S. Relations with the ICC

Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp. Photo by Toby Hanson. Photos by Hannah Dunphy are in AMICC's Facebook photos.

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By Anjie Zheng

The United States Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen J. Rapp, yesterday addressed a diverse audience of students, academics, practitioners and diplomats at Columbia University at an event presented by the university's Institute for the Study of Human Rights and co-sponsored by the Columbia Society of International Law and the Law School's Human Rights Institute. He discussed the ICC's first verdict with conviction of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, its strong impact on international justice, and reiterated U.S. support for the ICC in taking up the case. Although the U.S. is not an ICC State Party, Ambassador Rapp noted that it supports all 28 arrest warrant issued thus far by the ICC, and already provides important material support to the Court.

In his speech, the Ambassador highlighted that it may be a long time before the U.S. ratifies the ICC's Rome Statute. There are nevertheless many ways the U.S. could contribute to the ICC's functions and goals and move strategically toward a closer relationship with the Court in the meantime. He noted that the ICC is especially important now for victims of atrocity crimes because it will help to encourage domestic justice in the situations it investigates, as has occurred with the UN's ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

The Ambassador suggested the U.S. could increase assistance with witness protection, and expand the Rewards for Justice Program to include suspects wanted by the ICC. He also noted that he does not see the ICC as a threat to U.S. servicemembers, a fear that lay behind the passage of certain legislation such as the American Service-Members Protection Act, also known as ASPA. This is because the U.S. has robust and functioning justice systems that would require the ICC to defer to them. Ambassador Rapp also stated that UN Security Council referrals and accompanying political support to the Court would strengthen the ICC's operations.

The Ambassador's remarks made clear that there has been a close, established working relationship between the U.S. and the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor and that the Ambassador was directly involved in that relationship.

The Ambassador urged that since the ICC is a court of last resort, the U.S. ought to work to support the development of courts of first resort in troubled nations. Moreover, the ICC, although young, is strained by its own financial limitations and decreased funding. Ambassador Rapp noted that in the Lubanga case the OTP would ideally have had more resources to conduct more thorough investigations.

Ambassador Rapp is a former U.S. Attorney and international prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he won the first convictions in history for recruitment and use of child soldiers. The Ambassador also worked on a team with ICC Prosecutor-elect Fatou Bensouda when he was Head of Prosecutions at the ICTR.

While Ambassador Rapp did not mention it in his speech, President Obama is expected to deliver a speech next week in which he announces appointments to the Atrocities Prevention Board. The APB was created in 2011 to help prevent mass atrocity crimes. Ambassador Rapp's office is expected to be directly involved in the work of the APB.


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