Malaysia debate on statute U-turn rages on

The debate over the Rome Statute heated up after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last Friday (April 5) that his government isn't acceding to the treaty, though it had earlier indicated it would do so.
The debate over the Rome Statute heated up after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last Friday (April 5) that his government isn't acceding to the treaty, though it had earlier indicated it would do so.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR • As debate rages on over Malaysia's decision not to accede to the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a small group demonstrated outside the Malaysian Parliament yesterday to demand the removal of Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah and Attorney-General Tommy Thomas.

Questions are meanwhile raised over the involvement of four academics who were reported to have presented a "secret" paper to the Conference of Rulers to convince them to reject the Rome Statute.

They had reportedly warned the rulers that the treaty could cause the Malaysian King to lose his immunity in matters under the international court's purview.

The debate over the Rome Statute heated up after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last Friday that his government is not acceding to the treaty, though it had earlier indicated it would do so. The backtracking angered rights and civil society groups.

But the U-turn was cheered by Malay groups, along with opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia. They contended that the Malay constitutional monarchs would lose their immunity, while Islam's role would be diluted.

Under the statute, the ICC is able to probe and prosecute in situations where states are "unable" or "unwilling" to do so themselves on four specific major crimes.

The Rome Statute established the ICC as the first permanent, treaty-based international criminal court. Its powers are limited to only four crimes - genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.

Dubbed the "court of last resort", the ICC prosecutes only individuals, not groups or countries.

 
 

As of March 18, 122 countries were party to the Rome Statute. Countries that have not acceded to the statute include the United States, China, Russia and India.

Yesterday, about 40 Malays demonstrated outside Parliament, demanding the resignations of Mr Saifuddin and Mr Thomas for earlier agreeing to accede to the treaty.

Malaysiakini news portal reported over the weekend that a group of student activists released a summary of a paper by four academics which they claimed was used to convince the Malay sultans to reject the statute. The conference groups the nine Malay hereditary rulers and the four state governors.

"The arguments in the paper were very biased as they only discussed why the Conference of Rulers should reject the Rome Statute," the group said, as quoted by Malaysiakini.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 09, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysia debate on statute U-turn rages on'. Print Edition | Subscribe