“20 years is both a long and a short time for a new Court”

21 September 2022
As the International Criminal Court (ICC) turned 20, the Interamerican Center for Human Rights (IIDH) and GAAMAC convened a panel of current and former judges to discuss its accomplishments and challenges.

In his opening remarks, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) Ricardo Perez Manrique drew parallels between the IACtHR and the ICC. He emphasized that they worked towards a common goal, that of guaranteeing human rights, and that the strength of one was the strengthening of the other, too.

Under the moderation of Eduardo Bertoni, Representative of the Regional Office for South America of the IIDH, each panelist then gave their views on the ICC, its beginnings and its current state.

Negotiations and compromise

Silvia Steiner, a former ICC judge who was also involved in the development of the Court’s procedural rules, recalled the disparity of systems the ICC aimed to reflect. Widely different legal traditions had to be made to cohabit, with a view of being as inclusive and representative as possible.

“It was a negotiation among State representatives and the result, although not ideal, was the compromise that was possible at the time”, she said. “We had to let go of our unshakeable beliefs and open ourselves to a new, hybrid system”. Sometimes, divides were so profound that the legal interpretation was left to the ulterior discretion of the judges – what judge Steiner called ‘constructive gaps’. She concluded by emphasizing that the process was ongoing and that, to this day, judges were still sometimes interpreting procedural rules.

400 improvement points

Moving on to the state of affairs at the International Criminal Court today, Socorro Flores gave her views as a current judge, who took her office in 2021. Reiterating the unique nature of the ICC, she explained that improvement was a constant task. In 2020, a report by international experts listed a staggering 400 recommendations for a more functional Court.

While the timeline of their implementation may be extended, Judge Flores was optimistic that the process had already started. For example, the delay between the confirmation of charges and the beginning of the trial has been reduced thanks to a new procedure.

Likewise, victims participation has been greatly simplified with the ‘A-B-C system’ alleviating the task of the Preliminary Chamber to evaluate each individual requests. Now, it only needs to examine borderline cases. The other requests are examined by the ICC Registry.

A necessary involvement of all States

Silvia Fernandez, former President of the ICC and now GAAMAC Chair, spoke last to comment on the next steps for the Court. She said: “Much has been done, and much remains to do. Changes are indeed ongoing, and they are not simple amendments but holistic changes”.

All these changes must, Judge Fernandez reminded, be made in the spirit of inclusivity. Decision-making must be the result of dialogue and compromise, even if it is time-consuming. ‘Inclusivity’ also means aiming to the ICC’s global aspiration. With 123 member States, the Court is not truly universal yet, as States had envisioned at its creation. “And without universality, justice will remain selective” she concluded.

Finally, Judge Fernandez insisted that member States’ active involvement – from budget contributions to protecting the ICC from public libel – was the only way the Court can remain efficient and credible. This point was echoed by the other two panelists who cited the funding of the Trust Fund for Victims and the enactment of arrest warrants as areas of improvement.

Closing the panel, Ricardo Perez Manrique remarked that the ICC’s challenges were similar to those faced by the IACtHR: State cooperation, funding, and an aspiration towards universality. “But 20 years is both a long and a short time for a new Court” concluded Eduardo Bertoni. What will the next 20 years bring?

More information about the event

Watch the panel recording

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