Bridging the gap between the International Criminal Court, victims and civil society

Press release
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Danya Chaikel - FIDH

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) together with member organisations from around the world actively participated in the 22nd session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP22) to the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). FIDH presented six ways to bridge the significant gap between the Court and victims and civil society organisations. Several of these recommendations have been positively integrated into ASP22 resolutions and in upcoming initiatives by States Parties and Court officials.

At ASP22, FIDH together with its members advocated a vision of international justice that is consistent, impartial, and empowering to victims of mass atrocities. During discussions and events, FIDH continued to call for an end to double standards urging States Parties and the Court to champion accountability for all victims regardless of their geographical location within the Court’s jurisdiction. In various meetings and events, FIDH raised serious concerns about the Court’s limited engagement with victims and civil society and the urgent need for more information and meaningful two-way dialogue. States and Court officials listened and indicated their willingness to engage more frequently with civil society and victims in the coming year.

"When it comes to fighting impunity and preventing war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and aggression, we don’t have the luxury of choice" , said the head of the FIDH delegation, Mazen Darwish, Secretary General of FIDH, and General Director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) on the last day of ASP 22. "There is no “them” and “us” – either we survive together, or we fall together" .

FIDH recommendations to ICC States Parties were reflected in statements and resolutions adopted at ASP22. Together with NGOs and States Parties, FIDH organised a high level event on victims’ rights at the ICC which critically assessed the ways in which ICC victims’ rights are not being upheld and strategies to overcome the prevailing obstacles. On behalf of 48 ICC States Parties, Costa Rica delivered a joint statement insisting that States "must support the work of the Court across each and all situations before it" and that "all victims deserve equal access to justice."

FIDH also co-organised an event on civil society’s role in documenting international crimes with members and partners from Syria, Sudan, Palestine, Libya, Belarus, Ukraine, as well as the ICC Office of the Prosecutor who together candidly discussed how to address the numerous challenges faced by NGOs documenting international crimes, including how to bridge gaps between situations and the ICC.

FIDH joined Al Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Defense for Children-Palestine (DCI-P), in a joint statement to the Assembly during the General Debate. They stressed how Palestinian human rights organisations have consistently documented and exposed alleged atrocity crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and urged "the Office of the Prosecutor to imminently issue arrest warrants and expedite its investigation into crimes", reminding States Parties that "never again is now".

FIDH joined a Coalition for the ICC statement during the Plenary on Cooperation urging States Parties to condemn threats to Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) targeted for their work in advancing justice in the Rome Statute system, and to strengthen protection frameworks for HRDs domestically. FIDH also co-sponsored an event on practical ways States and the ICC can protect and defend HRDs and civil society to ensure a safe space to conduct their accountability work which supports the Court.

States Parties adopted a historic first of its kind - at any international organisation – permanent vetting procedure for all ICC elections to ensure the Court’s elected leaders have a ‘high moral character’ and backgrounds free of misconduct. This new procedure is due in large part to the consistent collaboration between ASP Presidency, civil society, and Court staff which FIDH applauds. Regrettably, reciprocal political agreements or ‘vote-trading’ continued this year in the judicial election – FIDH calls on States parties to halt this practice and prioritise fair, transparent, and merit-based ICC elections in order to elect the best and most qualified candidates for top positions at the Court.

The ASP also adopted a long-awaited reformed Legal Aid Policy which provides important enhancements for defence counsel and legal representatives for victims, and includes some of FIDH recommendations aimed at ensuring the Policy is fair and effective for victims and their counsel who play an essential role in ensuring victims’ views and concerns are heard by ICC judges. The new Policy is the first step towards ensuring victims are effectively represented, particularly during the initial stages of ICC proceedings where there remains a notable and concerning legal aid gap, often requiring counsel to work pro bono for their clients for several years.

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