PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia will withdraw from ratifying an international treaty that covers serious crimes and crimes against humanity.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the Cabinet has decided not to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would prosecute perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion about the Rome Statute, so we will not accede,” Dr Mahathir told a press conference on Friday (April 5).
“This is not because we are against it, but because of the political confusion about what it entails, caused by people with vested interests,” he added.
The ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based international criminal court, with the objective of ending impunity for perpetrators of the most serious crimes known to the international community.
It was established in 2002 and is governed by the Rome Statute.
Dubbed the “court of last resort,” ICC takes action against individuals when a government is unwilling or unable to prosecute on any of those four crimes.
On March 4, Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah signed the Instrument of Accession to the Rome Statute of the ICC.
The instrument was deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the same day.
Wisma Putra said that Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah on Feb 15, 2019 was informed by Saifuddin of the Cabinet’s decision to accede to the Rome Statute of the ICC.
It also said Dr Mahathir had previously written to the acting Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Dec 26 last year, informing the latter of the Cabinet's decision on the matter.
The decision received mixed reactions from the ground, with many expressing concerns on ICC’s impact on rulers’ power and Malay privileges.
On March 10, Tunku Mahkota Johor Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim tweeted that the government had failed to consult the Conference of Rulers when it agreed to accede to the Rome Statute , and that the government had undermined the rulers’ position.
On March 23, Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar accused Putrajaya of violating the Federal Constitution by signing the Rome Statute.
Sultan Ibrahim said that the Rome Statute, along with the attempt to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd), had touched on the monarchy, Malay privileges, and the sanctity of Islam.
“Any party that touches the rights and powers of a ruler or state government is breaking the law and can be considered traitors.
“The action of the Federal Government to ratify Icerd and sign the Rome Statute is an action that is contradictory to the Federal Constitution because it touches on the power of the rulers and the special status of the Malays as well as the sanctity of Islam in the country,” he said.
In response, Dr Mahathir said on March 24 that only the good provisions would be accepted from international treaties such as the Rome Statute and Icerd.
After having earlier announced that Malaysia would ratify also Icerd, Dr Mahathir later said Malaysia would withdraw.
On April 4, Opposition leader Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob filed a Private Member's Bill in Parliament urging the Federal Government to also withdraw from the Rome Statute.
Claiming that the government's decision to accede to the statute without due debate in the august House was worrying, he pushed for the withdrawal as ICC would affect the position and the immunity of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
He also called for the matter to be debated by all lawmakers.
The ICC’s powers are limited to only those four crimes – genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression – and it only prosecutes individuals, not groups or countries.
The ICC usually exercises jurisdiction over these crimes if committed by citizens of a country that acceded or within that country - unless the UN Security Council refers a situation to the ICC or when a country declares that it accepts the ICC’s jurisdiction.
As of March 18, there were 122 countries that are party to the Rome Statute.
Some countries that have not acceded to the statute include the United States, China, Russia and India.