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Malaysia’s membership of International Criminal Court is opportunity to provide leadership

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The Malaysian Bar welcomes the accession by the Malaysian government to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 4 March 2019. The statute will enter into force for Malaysia on 1 June 2019.

This decision is an actualisation of the strong affirmation of and adherence to the rule of law, both at national and international levels, which the new Malaysian government had announced as a key pillar of policy. In doing so, Malaysia joins the 138 states that are signatories and 124 states that are parties to the Rome Statute.

The Rome Statute is the founding treaty that governs the ICC, which was established in 2002. The ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court and describes its work as “[investigating] and, where warranted, [trying] individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression”.

Through international criminal justice, the ICC “aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and to help prevent these crimes from happening again”. The ICC enjoys broad legitimacy and commands wide respect amongst nations around the world.

With Malaysia’s accession to the Rome Statute, the government can and must, now begin its work to progressively bring Malaysia’s domestic legislation into compliance with the requirements of the Rome Statute.

In keeping with Malaysia’s pledge to work together with all state parties in upholding the principles of truth, human rights, rule of law, fairness and accountability, the government must introduce implementing legislation and put cooperation arrangements in place.

This accession is the culmination of many years of patient public and private advocacy by the Malaysian Bar, working together with like-minded international and national organisations. We thank them, and look forward to continued cooperation with them. We also look forward to playing an active role in supporting the principle of universality and ending impunity through encouraging further accessions by countries in the Southeast Asian and Asia-Pacific regions.

At the same time, the Malaysian Bar urges the government to accede to the remaining six core international human rights instruments in continuing approval, acceptance and affirmation of our publicly-announced commitment to the rule of law and proper administration of justice at home and abroad.

Malaysia now has an excellent opportunity to provide moral leadership and a positive example in reinforcing international norms and standards in the foundations of law and order both in Malaysia and the wider region. The government should seize this opportunity.

George Varughese is president of the Malaysian Bar.

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