KAMPALA, Uganda -- Days Two and Three at the ICC Review Conference have been very interesting. On Tuesday, June 1, the official program included statements by countries, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). One statement that was listened to quite closely that of Ambassador Stephen Rapp for the United States, in which he raised several questions of concern about the ongoing discussions on the crime of aggression. The Netherlands announced that it had collected 112 pledges from 37 states to provide the ICC with financial and other assistance. For example, Australia pledged to provide 100,000 Euros to the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims.
I also attended the final portion of the full-day Women’s Court, organized by the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and held in the People’s Space tent. This portion focused on testimonies from individuals from Sudan and was chaired by Elisabeth Rehn, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Trust Fund for Victims (pictured left). I had read Halima Bashir’s book, Tears of the Desert: A Memoir of Survival in Darfur, on the flight to Kampala. In her book, Dr. Bashir describes how she – as a young Zaghawa medical doctor – treated victims of the Janjaweed militia, including schoolgirls who had been repeatedly and brutally raped. She, in turn for providing medical care for her own people, was beaten, tortured and raped by the Sudanese security forces. The three individuals speaking at the Women’s Court event described similar stories of rape, torture, killing, displacement, economic deprivation and desperate survival in Darfur. They also described how the laws in Sudan make it very difficult for rape survivors to seek justice, and how individuals suspected of supporting the ICC and other human rights defenders are targeted for detention and mistreatment in Sudan.
June 2 began with the first stocktaking exercise, on the impact of the Rome Statute system on victims and affected communities. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, gave the keynote address (pictured left). Her speech was followed by a panel discussion involving Justine Masika Bihamba of Synergie des femmes pour les victimes des violences sexuelles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (pictured right), Elisabeth Rehn, Carla Ferstman of REDRESS, David Tolbert of the International Center for Transitional Justice, Binta Mansaray of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and Silvana Arbia of the ICC. Ms. Arbia, the ICC’s Registrar, noted that the ICC has received 2600 applications from individuals to be admitted as victim participants in the ICC process. Of these, more than 800 have been accepted by the Court. Several themes emerged from the stocktaking exercise, including:
- the importance of protecting intermediaries, who are crucial in helping the ICC gain access to victims,
- the challenges facing the ICC in getting sufficient information to women, who may not, for example, have access to the family radio – an important source of information about the ICC,
- the need for the ICC to effectively manage victims’ expectations of what the Court can do for them;
- the need for the ICC to improve its two-way dialogue with victims, and
- the need for States Parties to cooperate with the Court so as to better protect victims.
- there is a positive relationship between peace and justice, but also a tension.
- in some sense, the existence of the ICC and other international criminal justice mechanisms can strengthen a mediator’s hand because they clearly remove amnesty as a bargaining chip. However, this can also make a mediator’s job harder: how to get individuals and groups to agree to peace? Mediators need to be creative.
- the ICC holds the potential to deter serious international crimes, but we need to make justice – both international and domestic - more normal to make deterrence more real.
- the views of victims on whether they wish to prioritize peace or justice, or both, may shift over time.
- It is important for all of us to stand up to those who are defiant of the ICC. Justice will always have enemies.
June 3 marks the second day of the stocktaking exercise, with a focus on complementarity and cooperation.