THE Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLA) was formally adopted by consensus on 26 May following two weeks of negotiations in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  The negotiations involved delegations from more than 70 countries, international organisations and civil society groups.

Fisseha Tekle, a Law and Policy Adviser at Amnesty International, said: “The adoption of this new convention on international cooperation is a historic step towards delivering justice to victims of crimes under international law.

“In a world with ever-more visible atrocities, and where huge numbers of victims are often left without any remedy, the convention opens more routes to justice.

“Rules on the recognition, role and rights of victims were expanded; there is an increased emphasis on the duty to provide fair treatment to the accused throughout; statutes of limitations for these crimes have largely been outlawed; and language on gender was improved.

“Importantly, the principal duty of states to prosecute or extradite suspects of crimes under international law was enshrined and expanded to cover certain crimes in non-international armed conflicts.

“However, it is of great concern that last-minute efforts by a few states succeeded in carving out an exemption and securing discretion on whether to investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators present on their territory, when this should be a universal duty.

“But the determination of most states involved in the negotiations to minimise ‘safe havens’ for those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and to fulfil the victims’ right to remedy, ensured that this exemption was limited.

“The core principles of the treaty were preserved, and it should significantly reduce the impunity of perpetrators. Overall, a historic opportunity to strengthen international legal cooperation has been seized, and we now urge states to promptly sign the treaty and ratify it without reservations.”

Polly Truscott, Foreign Affairs Adviser at Amnesty UK, added: “Throughout these talks the UK sided with those wanting to water the treaty down rather than making it as tough and as effective as possible. The final outcome is still extremely welcome and will help bring suspected war criminals and others to justice, but it’s been shocking to see UK officials choosing political expediency over principles of international justice on something as vital as this.

“It should never be a question of pursuing some wanted war criminals and some architects of genocide, while letting others slip the net because it might serve the UK’s short-term interests. We would urge the Government to rethink its highly selective approach to international justice, make arrangements to promptly join the treaty without any reservation, and assist in all efforts to bring those suspected of involvement in some of the world’s most serious crimes to justice, wherever and whoever they may be.”

The new Ljubljana-Hague Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes – also referred to as the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty – sets out the obligations on countries regarding legal cooperation and extradition in the investigation of crimes under international law.

The treaty fills a gap in international law and justice by clarifying and cementing the duties and obligations of countries to assist each other in cases involving international crimes. It also provides a ‘toolbox’ in the fight against impunity for the crimes and bolsters the role of national judicial systems in pursuing such cases.

* Source: Amnesty International