Ukraine gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 when its parliament adopted the Act of Independence. Since then, Ukraine has worked to stabilize and grow as a new sovereign and independent state with the hope of joining the European Union. That hope was quashed in late 2013 when Viktor F. Yanukovych, then-president of Ukraine, won election for the third time (whether he actually won and whether it was done democratically is debated to date) and began to work closely with Russia rather than the European Union.
In November 2013, protests in Kiev and across Ukraine began. These protests continue today, resulting in almost one hundred dead and thousands injured. In light of the situation, Ukraine, not a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) referred the situation to the Court, via declaration dated April 9, 2014, and accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. The Registrar of the ICC received this declaration on April 17, 2014.
In the Declaration of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Ukraine asks the Court to hold senior officials of Ukraine criminally liable for alleged crimes against humanity committed during peaceful protests that took place in Ukraine between Nov. 21, 2013 and Feb. 22, 2014,
namely Yanukovych Viktor Fedorovych – the President of Ukraine – and other officials to be determined by the Prosecutor….
Ukraine utilized the mechanism under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, which “enables a State not party to the Statute to accept the exercise of jurisdiction of the Court.” With acceptance of the jurisdiction comes the cooperation obligations described and enumerated under Part 9 of the Rome Statute. The next step is for the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to decide whether to initiate investigation into the referred situation. On Friday, April 25, 2014, as reported in the ICC’s press release, Fatima Bensouda
has decided to open preliminary examination into the situation in Ukraine in order to establish whether the Rome Statute criteria for opening an investigation are met.
This is the second time a State that is not party to the Rome Statute referred a situation to the Court. The first situation referred to the Court via the Article 12(3) mechanism was the Situation in the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. Both situations, Côte d’Ivoire and Ukraine, present an interesting step in the evolution of the ICC’s jurisprudence that was anticipated in the Rome Statute (Article 12(3)) but used only twice. Cases currently pending at the ICC were either referred to the ICC by a State party or the Security Council, or investigation was initiated proprio motu by the Prosecutor. However, Article 12(3) offers a State that has not signed onto and ratified the Rome Statute, an international multilateral treaty, the chance to nevertheless accept the obligations and protections thereunder on a temporary basis.
One may argue that the 12(3) mechanism is circumventing the checks and balances guaranteed in Article 17 of the Statute, which makes the ICC’s jurisdiction complementary to a national jurisdiction. Article 17 states that a case is inadmissible to the ICC where
the case is being investigated or prosecuted by a State which has jurisdiction over it, unless the State is unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation or prosecution.
But because the process under Article 12(3) is initiated by a State not party to the Statute and is voluntary, it is the State that effectively gives up its own jurisdiction protected via Article 17 and accepts the one of ICC.
And how does this development affect the authority and power of the ICC? Greatly, because it is viewed as an authority with ability to carry out justice even by those who have not yet signed and ratified the Statute.