World unites for International Justice Day

13rd International Quarterly Conference of the Ivorian Coalition for the ICC for IJD 2017. © CICC
In 1995, a group of 25 human rights organizations began campaigning for a permanent international criminal court to hold individuals to account for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Against all the odds, it worked. Read how states and civil society around the world have been celebrating this significant day...

International Justice Day commemorates the historic adoption of the Rome Statute on 17 July 1998 by an overwhelming majority of the world’s countries. Few imagined where we would end up all these years later.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), celebrating 15 years since opening its doors, has just moved to its permanent premises in The Hague. The Court has made significant progress in holding perpetrators of atrocities to account. 124 states have accepted its jurisdiction. Victims are receiving help to rebuild their lives.

With accountability now firmly on the international agenda, impunity is on the run. But global access to justice remains uneven. Many governments continue to deny the ICC jurisdiction where it is most needed. The ICC must continue to evolve into the global court the world demands of it.

"The adoption of the Rome Statute and establishment of the new system of international criminal justice and this great Court will be viewed as a  revolutionary  advance  for peace and the rule of law,” said Convenor of the Coalition for the ICC William R. Pace. "IJD is a reminder for all states committed to fair and impartial justice for victims of the worst crimes around the world: to urgently ensure continued support for the international justice system."

Our Coalition now stands at 2,500 member organizations, ranging from community and grassroots groups in 150 countries to prominent international human rights NGOs. We're continuing to work for the protection of human rights at the national, regional and global levels through the ICC and Rome Statute system of international justice.

Around the world today we celebrate one of humanity's greatest achievements in the face of rising tides of violence and intolerance.


Victims first

In conjunction with International Justice Day, Avocats sans Frontières published a study summarising consultations on reparations with victims of mass atrocities in northern and eastern Uganda. As a result, the organization's Country Director Romain Ravet reaffirmed the role that governments, civil society, development partners and other concerned stakeholders must play in providing tangible support to survivors:

"Victims today live in a marginalised situation. There‘s an urgent need to empower them so their voices can be heard again. We believe that the law is a very adequate language to voice one’s needs and aspirations. Being able to frame one’s claim with legal standards does a great deal to get the claim across to and understood by the actors which bear the duty of guaranteeing human rights."

A focus on those left most vulnerable by a lack of accountability was echoed in a statement from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect:

"For victims, recognition of their suffering and accountability for violations and abuses perpetrated against them can have immense restorative value. On this World Day for International Justice, we must remind ourselves of the importance of pursuing justice and accountability for all mass atrocities, not just as an institutional responsibility and legal obligation, but as a moral necessity."

The Darfur Women Action Group was equally firm in its belief that the ICC can act as a beacon of hope for victims of genocide and mass atrocities in Darfur, Sudan by continuing to push for the arrest of its president Omar Al-Bashir:

"The ICC may be a young institution, but it has proven its necessity in pursuing accountability for those who need it the most. In spite of the many challenges, today ICC has given us a lot to reasons to celebrate."

The Global Justice Center has drawn particular attention to Yazidi women and girls situation and has renewed its calls to world leaders to uphold international law and ensure justice for them.

As successes attacks are waged against ISIS on the battlefield, it is equally important that there is justice and accountability for ISIS fighters in international courts,” says Janet Benshoof, founder and president of the Global Justice Center (GJC). “The women and girls persecuted by ISIS deserve to see their abusers held accountable for the crimes committed against them.


The importance of civil society

While Ewelina U. Ochab, human rights advocate and author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East", agreed with the importance of state cooperation in ensuring the effectiveness of the Court, she was also convinced that civil society is also key to this effect:

"Civil societies are indeed a key in connecting victims with the ICC, and making sure that the evidence of the atrocities is delivered to the ICC as soon as possible. So that the ICC can make the considerations whether to open preliminary examinations or to help to open official investigations. Many actors play a major role in the process: states, civil societies and also individuals. International criminal justice is a collective effort."

TRIAL International also highlighted the necessity of a strong network of national and international NGOs — in the form of the Coalition for the ICC — in even bringing the Court into existence: 

"Even before the ICC came into being, the Coalition contributed to putting international justice on the global agenda. It drummed up interest among governments and pushed for an international conference to establish the Court."

The Ivorian national Coalition for the ICC (CI CPI) meanwhile hosted an event in Abidjan bringing together civil society, government ministers and ambassadors for a panel discussion centering around the theme of "Terrorism and transnational security challenges". The president of the CI CPI gave a speech prior to the discussion:

"While States are coordinating to develop joint strategies in the fight against this asymmetrical war, African civil society also intends to play its part in the preservation of world peace, especially so that the perpetrators of these horrors, whose consequences on human rights strike the conscience of humanity, do not go unpunished."

The Central African Coalition for the ICC (CCCPI), in partnership with World Federalist Movement and the Institute for Global Policy, also organized a conference on 22 July on the theme: "Let's fight together against impunity in the Central African Republic for fair justice ".

Likewise, for the Day, the Kurdish Organizations Network Coalition for the International Criminal Court (KONCICC) and Kurdistan Without Genocide held demonstrations in 12 locations in Iraq, including Erbil, Kirkuk and Halabja. Over 120 different media outlets reported different activities. The Kurdish Coalition for the ICC used the day as an opportunity to increase pressure on the Iraqi government to accede to the Rome Statute and thus to become a member of the ICC.


State support

"We congratulate all who demarche for ratification, for complementarity, for cooperation within the Rome Statute system, either nationally or in their regional and other appropriate international organizations," commented Coalition Convenor William R. Pace at an International Justice Day event at United Nations headquarters, dedicated to achieving universality.

The Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs used the occasion to renew the state's support of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the importance of an independent and effective Court, stating: 

"The Court is the most significant mechanism for ensuring that perpetrators are held responsible in cases when states are unable or unwilling to do so. To date, almost 15,000 of victims have taken part in proceedings before the Court. More than 180,000 people have received the support of the ICC Trust Fund for Victims. The ICC contributes to ensuring jurisprudence in violations of international humanitarian law."

Strong support for the ICC also came from Ireland in the form of a statement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney:

“Since its conception, Ireland has been a consistent and strong supporter of the International Criminal Court.  I believe that, by its very existence, the Court promotes and upholds not only the rule of law but also provides an essential means of ending a culture of impunity. It contributes in a most fundamental way to the cause of international peace and security."

The Day was also an opportunity to encourage non-member States to ratify the ICC's Rome Statute and join the first permanent international judicial body capable of trying individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. To this end, the Human Rights and Democratic Forum (FOHRID) published a press release directed at Nepal:

"We would like to recall commitments by the political parties, and the Government for providing guarantee to justice of victim of serious crime under the human rights law, ending impunity, establishing democratic norms and values, and governance based on principles of the rule of law [...] For effective implementation of such commitments, Nepal's involvement in the ICC is a must."

Similarly, 13 human rights organizations joined forces under the auspices of the Network for Human Rights Documentation to call on Burma to open a conversation about the human rights abuses taking place in the country:

"As innocent civilians continue to be murdered, tortured and raped, we believe it is time for Burma to begin implementing the rule of law. As long as human rights violations are not punished, they will continue."

Support on behalf of the European Union was delivered in a declaration from EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini:

"Justice is one of the core elements towards reconciliation and sustainable peace. Without justice, the most heinous crimes go unpunished, victims are unable to obtain redress and peace remains an elusive goal, since impunity generates more hatred, leading to acts of revenge and more suffering."


Campaigning for further action

The Case Matrix Network, a knowledge-transfer and capacity development services group for international criminal and human rights law actors, shared the findings of its recent report on the legal framework for prosecuting sexual and gender-based violence (‘SGBV’) in Central African Republic as a means of empowering those working to provide criminal accountability for such violations, explaining:

"Criminal justice actors, including magistrates, and victims face difficulties in accessing national legislation and relevant case law."

A declaration signed by civil society groups in Burundi and published by the national Coalition for the ICC announced the launch of a 100-day campaign to support international justice. The statement also condemned the serious crimes committed with impunity in the country that led the Office of the Prosecutor to open a preliminary examination over a year ago:

"The signatory organizations insist on asking the International Criminal Court to start investigations as promptly as possible so that the perpetrators of the serious crimes underway in Burundi are brought to justice and that justice be restored to the thousands of victims of the repression orchestrated by the authorities of Bujumbura."

Civil society groups were also gathering in Georgia to jointly express their support for the ICC's investigation in the country and solidarity with affected victims:

"We would like to stress that it is crucial that the Court itself delivers accurate, timely and neutral information about the ICC and raises awareness about its role, mandate and activities in Georgia among victims, affected communities, as well as other parts of the Georgian society."


The ICC at 15

In celebration of the 15th anniversary of the International Criminal Court, the Iranian Center for International Criminal Law (ICICL) unveiled a poster campaign promoting the work of the Court.

The Court itself meanwhile launched its #wheniwas15 campaign — an opportunity for individuals to reflect on how their sense of justice was shaped by stories from their youth.


A panel discussion was held at the Court itself between representatives of the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, the ICC Bar Association and the Open Society Justice Initiative on “Fair trial at the International Criminal Court in a confluence of legal traditions.” In her keynote address, ICC President H. E. Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, identified the different routes to achieving fairness:

“The ICC, being a global court, needs to sufficiently embrace legal diversity. No legal system alone can adequately meet the needs of an international court facing mass crimes committed in contexts of violence."

On the day itself, the ICC President attended a conference in London on international criminal law and Syria, while the Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda delivered a video message to civil society representatives at an Assembly of States Parties panel discussion at the United Nations headquarters, foccused on "Striving for universality of the Rome Statute: The criminalization of aggressive war-making and ensuring greater protection for the victims of the most serious crimes." The Prosecutor herself was in Dakar, Senegal, for a conference where she stated:

"We mark this Day by reaffirming our steadfast commitment to the cause of international criminal justice and to redoubling our efforts, in our respective roles, to ensure justice is done, not least for the victims of these serious crimes."

On a visit to victims and affected communities in Northern Uganda, ICC Registrar Herman von Hebel launched a new “Access to Justice” programme, emphasizing:

“The world is becoming ever more conscious, striving to end crimes that threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world. We are certain to ensure a future that will relegate impunity to the footnotes of history, and together, this is possible."


What lies ahead?

Pierre Hazan, JusticeInfo editorial advisor and associate professor at Neuchâtel University, acknowledged the obstacles to international justice but was hopeful that these could be overcome, as evidenced by societies' continued thirst for fairness:

"International justice is not a judicial bureaucracy ensconced in a Western capital. It remains a perspective for the future. The time of dreams is over, it is now time to meet the challenges!"

For Blas J. Imbroda Ortiz, President of the International Criminal Bar (ICB), the path through these challenges lies in collective cooperation with the ICC and international criminal tribunals:

"Today more than ever we must demand to every country in the world their support to International Criminal Justice and the principles and values in which it is based on. The impunity of the most serious crimes against humanity has to vanish. Victims have to find the support of the international community. And everywhere in the world, governments must respect Human Rights."

In a similar vein, International Justice Associate at Human Rights Watch, Angelica Jarrett, outlined the progress made by the ICC over the last 15 years but was conscious of the major roadblocks it still faced:

"As the court works to strengthen its own practices, backing from member countries is needed to carry out the court’s investigations, arrest warrants, and witness protection programs. Private and public diplomacy is necessary to protect the court’s independence and legitimacy from outside political pressure."