Civil Society and International Criminal Justice


What role does civil society play in international criminal justice? How do civil society actors engage with international criminal justice mechanisms? How has the work of civil society changed over time? And what are the current challenges that civil society organisations face in promoting international criminal justice? These were some of the questions explored in the AHRCentre’s ‘Civil Society and International Criminal Justice’ seminar, held on Thursday 12 October 2017.

Jonathan O’Donohue, a Legal Advisor at Amnesty International, opened the seminar by tracing the history of Amnesty International’s engagement with the International Criminal Court. He explained the roles that Amnesty International played in commenting on and critiquing the draft Statute of the International Criminal Court, and how Amnesty advocated for States to ratify the Rome Statute once it was adopted. Jonathan then identified some areas of concern for human rights in the International Criminal Court, including the Court’s reluctance to inquire into fair trial issues at a national level in the Al Senussi admissibility challenge, and the Court’s use of Regulation 55 to recharacterise the charges in Katanga at a late stage of the trial. As part of its current focus to promote human rights in international justice, Amnesty International will be focusing on ensuring human rights compliance of all international justice mechanisms, in addition to ensuring better access to justice for victims at a national or international level, and ensuring stronger national and international laws to address impunity. Amnesty International aims to achieve this through: trial monitoring, conducted by the students at the International Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Melbourne; litigation and amicus curiae briefs, including one being developed around forced marriage and forced pregnancy in the Ongwen case; and advocacy on Amnesty International’s newly developed Human Rights in International Justice website.

Following Jonathan, Aurelie Roche-Mair, Director of the ICC and ICL Programs at the International Bar Association, spoke about the work the International Bar Association does regarding fair trial rights before international criminal tribunals through research, events and public advocacy. She discussed some of the International Bar Association’s recent projects, including raising awareness around the importance of legal aid for indigent defendants, lobbying for states to contribute to the trust fund for family visits for accused persons at the ICC, and the recent report the International Bar Association released on offences against the administration of justice and fair trial consideration. Aurelie also explained how the International Bar Association has expanded its focus in recent years to include other international criminal tribunals. This has resulted in initiatives with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon regarding trials in absentia, and with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as part of that institution’s legacy project.

Finally, Gayelle Carayon, a former Post Conflict Policy Advisor with REDRESS, spoke about the work REDRESS has done advocating for victims of international crimes. She spoke about how REDRESS has sought to assist the International Criminal Court to implement its victim participation mandate, by drafting new application forms, seeking to clarify the role and position of intermediaries, and using amicus curiae briefs to both ensure that victims’ views and concerns are represented in the proceedings (for example, during admissibility hearings), and to provide expert advice to the International Criminal Court (for example, regarding how reparations have been awarded and implemented in other jurisdictions). Gayelle also outlined the efforts of REDRESS in capacity building in national civil society organisations located in countries where the International Criminal Court has opened preliminary examinations and investigations. This included work educating civil society organisation about the victims’ rights regime at the International Criminal Court, establishing networks of civil society organisations, and building the capacity of these groups to engage in their own advocacy around victims rights.

Three broad themes linked each of the presentations. First, each speaker highlighted the importance of the International Criminal Court’s adherence to international human rights law in ensuring a fair trial for the accused and victims. The International Criminal Court is a ‘standard-setter’ for international criminal justice. Thus, fair trial protections and guarantees at an international level can filter down to national prosecutions. Second, the speakers reflected on the challenges of the International Criminal Court being a treaty-based institution. As the International Criminal Court was created by State agreement, it is important that States are reminded of the continued importance of the International Criminal Court, so that they continue to support it. States’ involvement with the International Criminal Court might also have the potential to undermine the integrity of the Court, particularly in relation to the Court’s dependence on States for its funding. Third, the International Criminal Court’s Africa focused was discussed. The speakers highlighted the importance for all victims of human rights abuses to be granted access to justice. They also spoke of the importance of building capacity for prosecutions and trials at a national level, so that justice does not have to occur in a remote location.



With thanks and appreciation to Natalie Hodgson for writing this report.