Many benefits of Rome Statute – Azril Mohd Amin

FOREIGN Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah’s announcement on March 4 that Malaysia has acceded to the Rome Statute has ignited an uproar about its effects on sovereignty and royal immunity.

The International Criminal Court is an international institution created out of the Rome Statute, a treaty established in 2002 to create a permanent international tribunal to try war crimes.

The crimes described in the statute are brutal in nature and capable of being committed only by a leader or a command structure of any given state.

We, working in non-governmental organisations, such as Centre for Human Rights Advocacy (Centhra), itself a member of Malaysian Alliance of Civil Society Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review Process (Macsa), deal with humanitarian and human rights issues every day and know how grave the situations are.

We believe Malaysia to be a compassionate nation and a responsible member of the international community.

Yet we hear critics alleging that ICC harms sovereignty and Malaysia should rely on its own courts to prosecute crimes of such magnitude.

Other criticisms centring on royal immunity, for example, are from those with different views of the legal process, as well as Malay rulers, claiming that the Rome Statute violates the Constitution. This claim is inaccurate.

Former chief justice of Malaysia Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad has voiced out against our accession to the Rome Statute and ICC. However, in a statement earlier last month, he correctly surmises the statute do not affect Malay rulers unless they commit war crimes within ICC’s jurisdiction.

This is echoed by a member of our legal fraternity, who clarified that while the Constitution deals with domestic law, the Rome Statute is an international treaty. Any suggestion that our Constitution must be amended to be in line with ICC to try our rulers is misconceived.

We must focus on the advantages of being a member of the world’s first permanent tribunal against those committing heinous war crimes.

International issues long advocated by Malaysia — from Palestine to Myanmar to Xinjiang, China — can be championed with greater effect than before.

As constitutional law scholar Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi puts it, the benefits include being in line with the Kuala Lumpur Initiative to criminalise war, credibility in criticising rogue regimes and ability to push for their punishment.

These reasons align with Wisma Putra in that we should increase our nation’s status among the world community, and nominate our citizens as judges,

prosecutors and registrars in ICC.

Centhra’s team of lawyers interviewed more than 50 Rohingya victims of massacres committed by the Myanmar military junta in 2016.

This has sparked the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal to bring Myanmar leaders before ICC to try them on genocide charges against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities in 2017.

Centhra recently assisted MyAqsa Foundation to urge ICC’s Office of Prosecutor to investigate Israel for its war crimes against Palestinians by referring to the Rome Statute.

Thus, again, we must plead to Malaysians to support the move.

Human rights, the rights of the oppressed and downtrodden, are too important to sacrifice before the altar of political expediency.

Let us rise to the occasion that our humanity demands of us, and stick with the decision to ratify and enforce the Rome Statute and its provisions, and submit ourselves to the jurisdiction of ICC as a full member of the international community, in the hope that its many benefits will bring about blessings that this act entails, and the crowning achievement of world peace that accompanies it.

Lawyer and chief executive, Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy

*Published in New Straits Times

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