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Prosecutor general sees geopolitics behind unsuccessful ICC bid

Prosecutor General Andres Parmas.
Prosecutor General Andres Parmas. Source: Prosecutor's Office.

Estonia's Prosecutor General Andres Parmas has shed light on the process behind the election of six new International Criminal Court (ICC) judges, a post which he unsuccessfully ran for.

As reported by ERR News, Parmas, who in March declared he would be campaigning for the role of judge at the ICC, which can prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression, fell at the last hurdle during this week's voting.

Parmas said that the process was flawed in that closed back room deals were done on candidates ahead of the vote, adding that some of the successful candidates had been ranked lowest in terms of their suitability, by an independent panel.

He also said that the sheer number of candidates from European nations also hampered his chances; a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson concurred with Parmas on this last point.

Parmas told ERR on Friday that: "What certainly influenced the fact that I was not chosen was that substantive criteria on the strength of the candidates ultimately carried no weight."

In their application process, the 13 candidates competing for the six posts were required to fill out questionnaires and appear before an independent panel. Five of the 13 were assessed as highly qualified for the position, including, Parmas said, himself, while five were not suitable for the post even as they were formally speaking adequately qualified, while the remaining three candidates were somewhere between these points, he said.

"Unfortunately, however, the committee's assessment is only advisory, and when the election day comes, the entire previous procedure actually carries no importance for the countries [voting]," he went on.

The regional division of voting weight did not speak in his favor, either, Parmas said; two of the successful candidates needed to be picked from the Eastern European group, two from the Asia-Pacific group and two from any of the regions.

The Eastern European group, however, was facing five candidates for the two spots, compared with three candidates chasing two places from the Asia-Pacific group, he said.

The two successful Eastern Europe candidates came from Romania and Slovenia, yet neither of them received the highest evaluation from the independent committee of experts, Parmas said, adding that in fact one of the candidates picked was the least well evaluated by the panel.

Applicants from the Czech Republic and North Macedonia were the other two unsuccessful candidates.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson concurred with Parmas' evaluation.

The ministry had supported his candidacy to the tune of €25,000.

Kerli Veski, who heads up the ministry's legal department, said: "At the end of the day, geopolitics still plays out in the same way, and in the case of Europe, since there were so many candidates, it was clear that from the outset the votes were split among many candidates, so who had been able to secure support in advance and to what extent was more likely to be decisive, and this was also something we lacked."

Veski drew a parallel with Estonia's successful campaign to win a UN Security Council non-permanent seat for 2020-2021, adding that in this case, lobbying foir support outside Europe was also required. However, unlike some other, mostly larger states, Estonia has few foreign missions outside of Europe, and these are practically non-existent in most African and Latin American countries, she said.

Most of the campaigning was focused on The Hague, where the ICC is headquartered, and in New York.

She also agreed with Parmas that his chances had been diluted by the sheer volume of candidates running from European nations, not only from Central and Eastern Europe, but also some Western European countries including France.

On the other hand, Veski said, Parmas had performed quite well until the last hurdle, when he lost out to a candidate from South Korea, after polling at 50 out of 123 votes.

Veski also said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will now analyze the progress of the campaign in order to take the experience gained into account the next time, though it is not clear at this point when next time exactly will be.

"The whole election process that takes place in the general assembly of the member states is entirely political and, although member states have agreed that the elections are held only based on a candidate's strengths, the reality is that the elections are held in a highly politicized manner and ... on the basis of deals an agreements that have been made on the candidates," Parmas himself commented further.

"These deals, of course, are something that are not made public, are bilateral, and it is also not viable to check whether the agreements made with regard to a particular candidate were in fact kept."

The six new ICC judges elected are: Erdenebalsuren Damdin (Mongolia), Iulia Antoanella (Romania), Nicolas Guillou (France), Beti Hohler (Slovenia), Haykel Ben-Mahfoudh (Tunisia), Keebong Paek (South Korea).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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