Historic convention allows for more efficient investigation and prosecution of the most serious international crimes

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Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib addresses the MLA conference

Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib addresses the MLA conference (© STA).

A new multilateral convention will create a framework for mutual legal assistance and extradition and is intended to enable countries to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes much more efficiently. Belgium played a pioneering role in its creation.

As a result of the genocide in Rwanda and the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the international community became increasingly aware of the need for a permanent international criminal court. That led to the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998, on the basis of which the International Criminal Court was established in 2002. That Criminal Court, based in The Hague, has jurisdiction over the most serious international crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Under certain conditions, the Court also has jurisdiction to prosecute individuals who have committed crimes of aggression.

With its 123 ‘States Parties’ – States that have ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute – the ICC has a relatively extensive jurisdiction. But that certainly does not mean that the International Criminal Court replaces the national criminal justice systems involved. It merely complements them. After all, the International Criminal Court handles only those cases that the countries themselves cannot or do not wish to prosecute themselves. Hence, prosecution under national criminal justice systems will always take precedence.

MLA Convention fills a gap

Yet until now, a solid legal basis that allowed countries to cooperate in investigating and prosecuting the most serious international crimes through mutual legal assistance and extradition had been missing. Since the suspects, witnesses and evidence for international crimes are rarely located on the territory of a single State, the absence of such a legal basis has hindered the investigation of those crimes and the prosecution of the perpetrators.

The Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) Convention adopted on 26 May fills that gap. It provides a practical tool that enables States to cooperate more effectively. The Convention also contains substantial provisions that strengthen obligations of individual States to prosecute or extradite the perpetrators of the most serious international crimes. This will contribute significantly to the fight against impunity, which is necessary because current conflicts are leading to an increase in atrocities against civilian populations.

Photo of the Belgian delegation at the MLA conference

The Belgian delegation at the MLA conference (© STA).

An important role for Belgium

Belgium played an important role in the creation of the MLA Convention. Indeed, Belgium was one of the countries – together with Slovenia and the Netherlands – that launched the MLA initiative in 2011. Argentina, Senegal and Mongolia then joined subsequently. And at this moment, 80 States have already expressed support for the initiative.

Since 2011, our country has worked tirelessly for the project in every way possible, not only by means of its diplomatic network, but also via its Prime Ministers, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Justice .

Belgium's current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hadja Lahbib, was therefore present at the opening of the diplomatic conference in Ljubljana, where the text of the Convention was negotiated and adopted. At this conference, Belgium fulfilled the role of Vice Chair and coordinator of one of the working groups. Our country will also be the depositary of this important Convention. This means, among other things, that Belgium will have custody of the original Convention, proxies for signature and instruments of ratification of the Convention.