Four years ago, Malaysia was on the verge of joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) but technical scruples prevented our deposition of the instrument of accession.

These scruples had to do with the perceived impact on our sovereignty of the Rome Statue of the ICC which bars genocide and crimes against humanity.

One hundred and 23 nations have already signed up with the ICC and even the Philippines and Maldives, which like Malaysia in 2011 had mulled ICC accession, went ahead and enlisted.

But Malaysia, after the cabinet had given approval in April 2011, drew back from deposting the instrument of accession.

“The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak,” quipped lawyer M Kulasegaran, DAP MP for Ipoh Barat, in reference to Malaysia's reluctance to follow-through.

Kulasegaran is secretary of the Malaysia chapter of Parliamentarians for Global Acion (PGA), a NGO pressing for wider acceptance of ICC membership and a slew of other initiatives that would bind nations into what Lord Alfred Tennyson called the “Parliament of man, the federation of the world” in a famous poem Locksley Hall that was a hymn for the universality of civilising values. 

Malaysia's reluctance to sign up with the ICC stems from lingering anxiety on the impact on our sovereignty – of our rulers especially – on issues where immunity is not recognised by the ICC for any person as titular head of a group that may be deemed to have committed a crime against humanty.

Malaysia is not exactly pristine on these issues, but we are a long way from the magnitude that would make the commission of such crimes culpable before the ICC.

Bring perpetrators to justice

A matter like the downing of a civilian aircraft like MH17 in Ukraine in July last year would, had Malaysia been a member of ICC, been deemed a crime against humanity and a complaint by an ICC member would have bound the court to investigate and apportion blame, determine punishment and award restitution.

“Had we gone ahead and acceded to the ICC, we would be in a good position to bring the perpetrators of the downing of MH17 to justice,” opined Kulasegaran.

He observed that a protest lodged with the United Nations security council ran the risk of incurring a veto from permanent member Russia which is an interested party in the civil war raging in parts of Ukraine.  

“Acceding to the ICC would have obviated the effect of the Russia's objections and we could have secured justice for the victims of the crime of the downing of MH17,” argued Kulasegaran.

After organising a seminar on the 'International Rule of Law and Protection of Civilians', hosted by the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, Kulasegaran is off this weekend to the Marshall Islands in the Pacific for another round of PGA meetings.

“If we want to acquire moral stature as a rotating member of the UN security council and as chair of Asean, both of which we enjoy this year and next, we have to become a member of the ICC.

“We can't stay aloof from this international court if we wish to hold forth on issues of crimes against humanity such as the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza,” he said.

“Signing up with the ICC is a proposition that's no longer deferrable,” asserted the four-term parliamentarian who is national vice chair of the DAP.