By A. Elena Ursu
On 3 March, El Salvador became the 124th State Party to the International Criminal Court and the 28th Latin American State to ratify the Rome Statute and its amendments on war crimes and the crime of aggression.
The instruments of ratification were presented by Hugo Roger Martinez Bonilla, Minister of Foreign Affairs of El Salvador, to Stephen Mathias, the UN Assistant Secretary General for Legal Affairs, and to Sebastiano Cardi, the vice president of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute. The President of the Assembly, Minister Sidiki Kaba welcomed the ratification from Dakar, where he serves as Minister of Justice:
“This decision by the people of El Salvador signals their commitment to the prevention of the most atrocious crimes and their understanding of the central role that the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court play in this regard. I reiterate the importance of redoubling our efforts to ensure the continued expansion of the family of states that cooperate to fight against impunity and to protect the victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.”
The President of the Court, Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, took this opportunity to further emphasise the need:
“By acceding to the Rome Statute, El Salvador strengthens the Court’s jurisdiction and enters the growing majority of the world’s nations that have combined their efforts for the purpose of ending impunity and helping prevent the most serious crimes of concern to humanity. (…) I truly hope that El Salvador’s accession will encourage the five remaining States from the Latin American and the Caribbean region to give serious consideration to joining the Court as this would represent a step toward a safer future based on the rule of law.”
El Salvador’s accession to the ICC comes after over a decade of advocacy by international and local civil society, led by the Salvadorian chapter of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, with the support of Parliamentarians for Global Action. NGOs and civil society were key actors in the campaign for ICC accession. Through advocacy meetings, open letters and legal assistance, they addressed the obstacles on El Salvador’s way to the ICC and raised awareness among government officials and the general public. As a result, in 2009, President Mauricio Funes declared his commitment to the ICC and his successor, President Sánchez Ceren, has upheld that promise. The first step was formally taken in 2012 when the foreign ministry of El Salvador submitted a Rome Statute accession bill to the presidential house. On 26 November 2015, El Salvador’s parliament approved the bill and accession to the Rome Statute together with a bill on the implementation of the crimes and principles included in the Rome Statute crimes and principles into national law.
The ICC and Latin America
Latin American governments, civil society organisations and academics have been among the strongest supporters of the ICC. Their advocacy efforts have consolidated Latin America’s commitment to end impunity for the most atrocious international crimes. To date, 18 out of the 20 sovereign states in Latin America and the Caribbean have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute of the ICC. Nicaragua and Guatemala are the only two countries that have yet to finalise their ratification processes in the region. Several countries, including Brazil, Bolivia and El Salvador have implemented or are currently implementing the ICC Statute in their national penal codes.
In the region, the ICC is active in Colombia, where the preliminary examination phase is ongoing. Colombia has ratified the ICC Statute in August 2002, and the Court jurisdiction started in November 2009.
Lead image: Flag of El Salvador (Photo: Josh/Flickr)
A. Elena Ursu is a passionate international law graduate currently enrolled at the Yenching Academy of Peking University where she specialises in the Chinese justice system and its reform.