Adoption of the Mutual Legal Assistance Convention on international crimes: a milestone in the fight against impunity for international crimes

Crédits: ktsimage

On 26 May 2023, the Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of the Crime of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes, also known as the Mutual Legal Assistance Convention (“MLA Convention”), was adopted at the 18th Plenary Session of the MLA Diplomatic Conference in Ljubljana. FIDH welcomes the adoption of this new instrument, which aims to strengthen international legal cooperation in delivering justice to victims of international crimes and to fight impunity of perpetrators of these crimes.

The MLA diplomatic Conference took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from 15 to 26 May 2023, with the participation of representatives of nearly 70 States, international organisations and civil society. The initiative was led by Slovenia, Argentina, Belgium, Mongolia, the Netherlands, and Senegal and was supported by 80 States. The purpose of this Convention is to facilitate international cooperation especially on investigations, evidences gathering, witnesses hearings, and extradition. The final text was adopted on 26 May, and, after an upcoming period for potential linguistic comments, will be open to all States for signature in 2024.

“The adoption of this treaty, setting out States’ duties and obligations in terms of cooperation in the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes, is a crucial moment in the history of international criminal justice. The Mutual Legal Assistance Convention will contribute to improving State coordination and efficiency in the delivery of justice for victims and survivors. We hope for universal signature and ratification as well as implementation of this treaty, including by States that are not party to the Rome Statute.”

Alexis Deswaef, FIDH Vice President

Before the Diplomatic Conference, FIDH with nine other non-governmental organisations shared a joint letter with key recommendations and proposed amendments for an effective cooperation and the meaningful implementation of victims’ rights in investigations and prosecutions for international crimes.

FIDH is pleased to see in the final text the incorporation of several proposed amendments, especially the explicit reference to victims’ right to justice, truth and reparations in the Preamble and the granting for a “right to reparation” rather than a right to “seek” reparation. Furthermore, FIDH welcomes the inclusive approach preferring “gender” rather than “sex” throughout the Convention, and the removal of the term “pardoned” that should not apply to those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law. Finally, FIDH applauds the replacement of term “damages” by “harm”, that implies broader reparation than only financial compensation.

Nevertheless, FIDH deplores the French and UK governments’ attempt to weaken the treaty by proposing amendments to make the obligation of States Parties to establish its jurisdiction over international crimes (Article 8) and to extradite or prosecute alleged perpetrators of such crimes (Article 14) discretionary, when it should be a duty. Such amendment would have considerably weaken the treaty, allowing perpetrators to escape justice and remain unpunished.

The MLA Convention is not exclusive of the Rome Statute and both are universal independent instruments. The new treaty has a broader scope than the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, encompassing crimes beyond genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Both conventions are based on the principle of complementarity, according to which national authorities have primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of the most serious crimes. While the Rome Statute creates an International Criminal Court to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concerns, the MLA Convention intends to allow States Parties to reinforce their national capacities and facilitate international cooperation.

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