Leaked documents show Malaysia might have changed its mind on ratifying Rome Statute after fears it could leave the King open to court prosecution

Malaysia has decided not to ratify the Rome Statute, a treaty established in 2002 that governs an international court used to try war crimes committed by country leaders or governments.

Malaysia’s sudden U-turn over ratifying the Rome Statute may have to do with a briefing that spooked leaders into believing the move would leave the King open to prosecution in the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to leaked documents.

The treaty, established in 2002, governs the ICC, an international court used to try war crimes committed by country leaders or governments.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced on Friday (April 5) that Malaysia – which had initially acceded to the Rome Statue on March 4 – was withdrawing due to political and social confusion, Bernama reported.

The decision was made following a briefing by experts to the Conference of Rulers.

A document claiming to be the executive summary of the briefing was posted on Facebook on Sunday (April 7) by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia student activist Asheeq Ali.

Its title reads “The Statute of Rome and Malaysia: An executive summary presented to the Conference of Rulers, 2 April 2019”.

The paper was allegedly prepared by Universiti Teknologi Mara law dean Rahmat Mohamad, International Islamic University of Malaysia law lecturer Shamrahayu Ab Aziz, and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia’s law lecturers Fareed Mohd Hassan and Hisham Hanapi.

The contents of the executive summary include topics like “The Rohingya and Myanmar”, “MH17, Russia and Ukraine”, and “Israel and Palestine”.

These match a list of presentations supposedly given to the Conference of Rulers and posted on Twitter by Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim.

The Star cited Asheeq Ali as saying he obtained the document from a “reliable source”.

According to a translation by the Malay Mail, the academics claimed that the King’s role as supreme commander of armed forces was not simply symbolic or ceremonial, and meant the ICC could act against him.

They also cited examples of war crime tribunals set up to prosecute German emperor Wilhelm II and Japanese Emperor Hirohito for their roles in World War I and World War II, despite previous clarification from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that for Malaysia, the Prime Minister and Cabinet – not the King – would assume legal responsibility for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or crimes of aggression, Malay Mail reported.

In his post – representing the views of a group of student activists – Asheeq Ali criticised the academics for including these examples, as the ICC did not yet exist at that point in time.

He also raised other questionable examples used in the summary, including a claim that Myanmar could not be prosecuted by the ICC over accusations of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, as it was not a party to the statute.

Following the leak of the alleged summary, a group of 22 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) published a joint statement on Monday (April 8) claiming that the treaty did not impact rulers in Malaysia’s context, and was meant to protect victims of international crimes, Malay Mail said in a separate report.

Among the signatories were local academic movement GERAK, Muslim group G25, and Bersih, a coalition of NGOs supporting free and fair elections.

The statement said that since the King was not operationally responsible for military decisions, signing the treaty would not impede the powers of the monarch or threaten Islam or the Malay position.

Read also: After months of promising to abolish the death penalty, Malaysia’s government now makes U-turn