The General Assembly, the ICC, and the North Korea precedent

By David Bosco

According to this Associated Press account, the North Korean regime staged a large rally in Pyongyang to protest the recent UN resolution urging a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC):

Thousands of protesters in Kim Il Sung Square carried banners praising their leaders and condemning the United States. Such mass rallies are organized by the government and are used to express its official line.

North Korea has denounced the U.N. resolution, which is the first to urge the Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court….North Korea says the U.N. move is based on trumped-up allegations by defectors and backed by the United States and other countries seeking to overthrow its ruling regime. Its state media have been producing articles critical of the human rights situation in the United States and threatening severe retaliation against any attempts to bring down its government.

The rally is the latest evidence that the push for accountability has, at the very least, captured the regime’s attention. As my colleague Leslie Vinjamuri pointed out yesterday, even if the campaign for justice goes no further, some human rights activists see the regime’s evident discomfort as evidence of the court’s power.

One institutional question that arises is whether the General Assembly will now be in the business of regularly encouraging ICC investigations. The Rome Statute only accords a role to the Security Council, and that body has been pilloried by many justice activists for both its selective referrals (only Sudan and Libya have been referred) and the lack of follow-up on situations it has referred. It’s highly unlikely the Assembly would ever acquire a formal role in ICC referrals (a change that would require amendments to the Rome Statute), but an Assembly that is routinely looking over the Council’s shoulder could alter the international justice dynamic considerably.

About David Bosco

Assistant Professor at American University's School of International Service. Contributing editor at Foreign Policy magazine. Author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics and Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World
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