Conference: Accountability as a Common Goal. Dialogue between the ICC Prosecutor and Human Rights Actors.

The conference about the complementary roles of the ICC and Geneva’s human rights bodies, which took place in Geneva last Friday, presented a very distinguished panel composed of His Excellency Roderick van Schreven, the Ambassador of the Netherlands to the UN in Geneva, Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, , Carsten Stahn, Professor, International Criminal Law and Global Justice, Leiden University / Program Director of the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies (The Hague), Angela Mudukuti, Lawyer, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and Pierre Hazan, Editorial Advisor.


The intervention of His Excellency Roderick van Schreven: justice is a long-lasting process

The Ambassador of the Netherlands to the UN in Geneva, His Excellency Roderick van Schreven, began by introducing the subject. He underlined the fact that international criminal law is not really developed as its own legal system. These norms were gathered from Human Rights norms before they became a practical reality. International criminal law is, in terms of norms and implementation, closely related to Human Rights.
There is also a big gap between these two fields: when atrocities happen, people on the field are usually people working directly for human rights. Most of time, they are NGOs who already are aware of the situation. However, the international criminal actors can take years to show up, if they ever do. Justice takes time and is long term project. Human rights defenders need to push for justice, even if it takes years to succeed.

The intervention of Fatou Bensouda: the ICC as a mean to prevent crimes

Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, briefly recalled that, according to the principle of complementarity, the ICC is a court of last resort, intervening only when domestic courts are inactive or unable to act. ICC’s role is to fight against impunity to ensure accountability. Moreover, its role is to prevent crimes through the prosecution of the authors. Of course, some obstacles prevent the ICC to prosecute every authors. For example, the principle of immunity prevents head of states to be held accountable for their crimes. Mrs Bensouda recognized that ICC is not perfect, by any means, but still underlined the fact that this international criminal court is a good start to prevent such violent crimes to take place.

The intervention of Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein: the lack of a true international community is preventing the ICC from attaining its full reach

Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, began his intervention by reminding the audience that the ICC is the result of crimes which shocked the conscience of humanity, who realized that such crimes should not stay unpunished. But at the time the ICC was established, in 2002, the time it would take to convince the world this was useful and even necessary was lacking. The High Commissioner underlined that the world is only catching up now, giving the Court the credibility it needs to actually operate. The main problem, today, is the game of appearances. Indeed, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein remained very concerned and very critical of some of the fundamental aspects of the evolution of human rights. He told the audience that States are playing with appearances. Appearances that they believe in human rights, appearances that that they believe in an international system: by participating to human rights events, they wish to show to the international community that they contribute in the promotion of these rights. 

But in fact, respect of human rights is steadily becoming a growing concern. There is a huge gap between what heads of States are telling and what is actually done. According to the High Commissioner, hypocrisy and lack of action are, unfortunately, a big part of the current human rights situation.
The High Commissioner highlighted the necessity to have a community to overcome the limited national interests. Unfortunately, he stated that there is not really a community anymore, though there used to be one. At a certain time, a gravity of interested pushed the States to get together and to create treaties, but this community disappeared in the last twenty years. Could we negotiate today the treaties or clauses that were drifted in the fifties ? « Not even close », said the High Commissioner.

 This is a shame, because the lack of a real community prevent the ICC to be truly efficient, and « not standing for the ICC, is like staying next to young girls being raped in a conflict and do nothing. Like seeing someone being shot and watch him die ». This is a choice, but this is a dangerous one. The High Commissioner agreed, the ICC is not a perfect system. But, as he asks all sceptics, « Can you bring on a better alternative? ». This Court is prosecuting the authors of terrible crimes, in an effort to defend the victims and prevent further crimes. The community needs to be stronger to ensure the efficiency of that Court. « We have a lot to protect and something to save », said the High Commissioner at the end of his speech.


This conference underlined the importance of the ICC as a criminal court, and the undeniable link there is between this court and human rights. It also highlighted that the respect of human rights is becoming less and less a crucial factor for States, as the concept of community is slowly fading. It reminded the audience how dangerous this situation is, and how important the fact to stand for the ICC is.


Sophie Grobet, research assistant for CIPADH