ICC member states commit to address threats against ICC NGOs

Photo: International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Suppression of human rights defenders has been widely reported in recent weeks. The 124 ICC member states have now officially recognized the need to ensure a safe environment for civil society to cooperate with the ICC and to take measures to address threats and intimidation against NGOs.

The Coalition’s civil society members have been working in increasingly political and hostile environments as they fight to ensure victims’ access to fair and effective justice domestically or at the International Criminal Court (ICC). We believe - and ICC member states have agreed - that these human rights defenders (HRDs) deserve a strong state-level and international response to threats and intimidation, just as HRDs enable for victims day in and day out.

 

Push back against attacks on civil society working on the ICC

In response to the most recent and explicit death threats against civil society working on the ICC, the 124 ICC member states in November 2016 recorded their concern over the incidents in an official resolution.

They went a step further, however, in recognizing that ICC member states have a collective responsibility to civil society supporting the ICC process – a responsibility that takes on urgent significance when NGOs cannot rely on protection from the government at home or in the field.

At their 15th annual session, the ICC member states underlined the importance of ensuring that NGOs can safely cooperate with the Court and that all necessary measures are taken to address threats and intimidation directed at HRDs.

 

New resolution comes as threats to HRDs abound

The new resolution commitments mark the first time the ICC members states have adopted strong official language to reflect the increasingly shrinking space for civil society to operate in, an alarming worldwide trend.

In the first week of 2017 Frontline Defenders launched its Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk in 2016, detailing more than 1000 human rights defenders killed, harassed, or detained, among other violations over the course of last year.

Already at the 15th annual session of ICC member states, the immediate need for stronger state engagement and vigilance to protect NGOs was clear. One event - ironically centered on increasing threats to civil society working on the ICC - saw Kenyan human rights defender and ICC activist Gladwell Otieno threatened by a delegate with ties to the Kenyan government.

Such attacks have no place in modern democracies, much less in an institution dedicated to the maintenance of international human right law standards like the ICC is.

With the ICC taking on more and more contentious cases and operating within an increasingly political climate, it could be anticipated that threats against HRDs working on international justice issues would intensify. With that, it is crucial for the international community to push back against violent threats made to ICC advocates – threats that constitute hate crimes.

“Throughout the world, there are increasing attacks against human rights defenders. Those striving to bring justice to all who suffer from genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are crucial to the defense of human rights. The threats against international justice workers are threats not only against the ICC but against all international law and justice,” William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition, said last year.

 

Maintain space for all of us in the fight for global justice 

The Coalition welcomes the ICC member states’ concern, regarding the threats and intimidation directed at civil society organizations cooperating with the Court, as a commitment to ensure that civil society can do its work advancing international justice through the ICC mandate, without intimidation or threat of reprisal.

The 124 ICC member states’ call to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to address threats and intimidation directed at civil society should be heeded by all: foremost by individual states, which have the tools to respond; but also by the international community at large.

States committed to as much when they adopted the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which draws from binding international law to underscore for states, civil society, and the public our respective roles in the global human rights movement. That includes the Rome Statute system of international justice.