Secretary of State Clinton and her Dutch counterpart Maxime Verhagen made a joint appearance at the State Department yesterday. Much of Secretary Clinton’s remarks focused in the scourge of piracy and the necessity of forging a common international military and legal framework to combat piracy off the Somali coast. But it was this bit from Foreign Minister Verhagen that caught my attention:
Finally, we discussed human rights, because respect of human rights is increasingly under pressure. They are central in the Dutch foreign policy. And we are very pleased by the renewed U.S. engagement in human rights, and we look forward to promoting human rights worldwide in a strong partnership with the United States. As the host country of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, we appreciate also the more positive approach of the United States to the Court, especially with regard to Darfur. And we hope, of course, to see that the United States will work more closely together with this court in the near future.
That last part is still up for debate. Folks will remember that the previous administration famously “unsigned” the Clinton administration’s signature to the Rome Statute that created the ICC. Via Don Kraus, a group of over 25 NGOs are calling on the Obama administration to formally retract the Bush administration’s “unsigning” of the Rome Statute.
The Obama Administration must also decide soon to take additional, critical steps. The preceding administration deactivated the US signature of the Rome Statute by sending a note to the Secretary-General of the United Nations so declaring. Under Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, another note to the Secretary-General can reactivate the signature. The policy statement would simply formalize and clarify early indications by the present administration that it intends to work with the Court in cases and circumstances that would serve U.S. national interests. Arrangements to carry out the policy would make clear that the policy is serious in the face of continued skepticism, especially in Europe, about American intentions toward the Court. Reactivation of the signature would remove an official and formal declaration of hostility to the Court and thus give further credibility to a new policy of cooperation and support. It would also promote worldwide understanding and acceptance of U.S. participation in the Review Conference proceedings.
I’ll leave it to my friends at Opinio Juris to tell me if this kind of action is at all legally significant. Really, though, it’s the symbolism that matters.