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On Friday May 26th, a diplomatic conference gathering 70 States in Ljubljana (Slovenia) adopted an historic agreement for a new multilateral treaty on mutual legal assistance and extradition for the prosecution of the most serious international crimes before national jurisdictions. It was Belgium that launched this "MLA" ("Mutual Legal Assistance") initiative back in 2011 with Slovenia and the Netherlands, later joined by Argentina, Senegal and Mongolia. Our country, alongside the other founding States, has been working tirelessly ever since, through its diplomatic network and the voices of its Foreign Ministers, Justice Ministers and Prime Ministers, to support this project. The diplomatic conference had opened on May 15 in the presence of Hadja Lahbib, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, Foreign Trade and Federal Cultural Institutions. Before the conference, 80 States had already given their support to the MLA initiative.
All States are bound by international obligations to prevent and punish genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other international crimes. It is the implementation of these obligations that the MLA initiative aims to facilitate. The future convention will enable its States Parties to effectively fulfill their primary responsibility, which is to investigate these crimes and prosecute the perpetrators at national level. Due to the very nature of these crimes, suspects, witnesses and evidence are rarely located on the territory of a single State. This means that the judicial authorities of the States investigating and prosecuting these crimes must cooperate if they are to be truly effective in the fight against impunity.
By focusing on the principle of complementarity between national and international jurisdictions, this new treaty is aligned with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was adopted in 1998 and came into effect in 2002. It stipulates that national authorities have the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of the most serious crimes. The ICC only has jurisdiction when a State party to the Rome Statute is unwilling or unable to carry out the investigation or prosecution. The forthcoming MLA convention is therefore intended as a practical tool to enable States to strengthen their national capacities and enable inter-State cooperation. Current conflicts, where atrocities against civilian populations are on the increase, demonstrate the importance of adopting this new treaty now.
Belgium made an active contribution to the MLA negotiations and to the finalization of the treaty. In Ljubljana, it acted as vice-president of the diplomatic conference and coordinator of one of the negotiating working groups. Our country will also be the depositary of this important convention.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, Foreign Trade and Federal Cultural Institutions, Hadja Lahbib: "I am particularly proud that Belgium has succeeded in carrying out this ambitious project, which is aligned with the traditional priorities of Belgian diplomacy, contributing to the goal of bringing justice to the victims of the most serious crimes and sending a strong message to the entire international community: these crimes will never go unpunished."
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