During the Slovak Republic’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, The Hague Institute and the Slovak Embassy organized a panel discussion on “The EU’s Contribution to a More Just Global Order”, which took place on 30 November.
In delivering the welcoming remarks, Dr. Abi Williams, President of The Hague Institute, highlighted the central role of The Hague in international law. The international courts and tribunals based in The Hague spearhead the development of international law. In the timeless quest to end impunity, the establishment and trials at these tribunals, both those in The Hague and further afield, such as the ECCC in Cambodia and the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, is evidence of steady progress. However, Dr. Williams warned, we cannot rest on our laurels. Recent developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC) underscore the need for consolidation of the international community’s efforts thus far.
Ambassador Roman Bužek, of the Embassy of Slovakia, which currently holds the Presidency of the EU, accentuated the urgent need for united international action to address the multitude of global challenges the world faces today. Ranging from armed conflict to human trafficking and child soldiers to post-conflict reconciliation, cooperation is a must. The EU, which holds the rule of law and respect for human rights as core values in its decision-making process, must continue to lead by example. Maintaining fundamental rights will play an important role in promoting justice on the international plain.
Following the welcoming remarks, Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, Judge and President of the ICC, outlined the history of international criminal law and the process that led to the establishment of the ICC. Noting that the ICC was at its conception a project of small and middle-sized states, she argued that the Court has now established its place in the international arena, prosecuting crimes ranging from the use of child soldiers to the destruction of cultural heritage and sexual violence. The Rome Statute, upon which the ICC is founded, reflects shared values of humanity and aspirations for mankind. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 confirms the need for strong institutions to ensure these values are protected. The EU and its member states have supported the ICC from the outset and continue to directly and indirectly support the Court in its effort to expand its jurisdiction over all states and ensure truly global justice.
Ms. Mercedes Garcia Perez, Head of the Human Rights Division of the European External Action Service (EEAS), delineated the EU’s ongoing efforts to attain global justice. She detailed a number of initiatives, such as programs aiming to bolster local owned approaches to transitional justice, undertaken within the mandate of the EU. In relation to the ICC, Garcia Perez reiterated the EU approach to spread the reach of the Court. Challenges, as Garcia Perez explained, remain. In particular, the situation in Syria presents gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The EU supports referral of the situation the ICC and continues to work to prevent violations in the future.
Speaking about the recently initiated Kosovo Specialist Chambers, Dr. Fidelma Donlon, Registrar of the Chambers, outlined the history of the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo, and its contribution to the establishment of the Specialist Chambers in The Hague. Pointing out the structural differences between the Chambers and the variety of international courts and tribunals in the city, such as the fact it is fully funded by the EU, is staffed with international personnel yet operates under Kosovar law, Donlon also explained the role the Chambers will play in bolstering the judiciary in Kosovo to root out impunity and further the transitional process.
Mr. Ladislav Hamran, Vice President of Eurojust, elaborated on his organization’s efforts to support institutions in dealing with prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Uncontaminated evidence, as Hamran argued, is crucial to successful prosecutions. Eurojust deals with judicial cooperation and aims to support states’ ability to gather evidence of grave crimes in such a way that it ensures the admissibility of that evidence before tribunals. Getting the local judiciary on board is in this respect crucial, as without their support there can be no fight for impunity. In addition to these efforts, Eurojust maintains a European network for the prosecution of the aforementioned crimes to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between actors working in support of these goals. Panel moderator Dr. Aaron Matta noted that The Hague Institute has been involved in this effort by co-organizing two trainings, one in December 2015 on Adjudicating International Core Crimes within EU Member States and more recently on Investigating and Prosecuting Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.
Dr. Olympia Bekou, Deputy Director of the Case Matrix Network, offered insights into the work of this EU funded project in Georgia and Mexico. The focus of this project is to provide access to legal information and expertise with relation to fact-finding, documentation, ratification and implementation, and cooperation with the ICC. In Georgia, the project is mainly geared towards fact-finding and enhancing the capacity of national actors to deal with the ICC. In Mexico, a focus on documentation and implementation is meant to combat the lack of reliable information with regard to e.g. the war on drugs, to make it easier for actors to identify whether human rights violations or international crimes have been committed. Additionally, the Case Matrix Network has created a database with national laws of 150 countries regarding ICC implementation, with the aim of improving cooperation between states and the Court and to draft or amend national legislation to make cooperation more efficient.
Reflecting on the status quo of international criminal justice, Dr. Carsten Stahn of Leiden University stated that we are at the tipping point. On the one hand, international criminal justice is becoming more effective, while on the other there has been a backlash against it. The EU has contributed substantially to its consolidation, in particular to the establishment of the ICC. Additionally, the EU has maintained a long-term vision that offers a viable road to international justice. Conversely, bootstrapping acceptance of the Rome Statute to economic and development agreements between the Union and Global South countries may have unintended effects of harming actual support. Stahn offered a couple of questions that must be addressed in future: the disconnect between international criminal justice and transnational crimes and development; and the role of regional mechanisms in place of the ICC.