The week just ended began with an anniversary: International Justice Day. Despite criticism — both founded and unfounded – and numerous challenges still to be met, international criminal justice will go down in the history of Humanity as one of the most notable revolutions of the last century.
This week’s hearings, decisions and legal challenges are testimony to this. For example, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo appeared Wednesday before the International Criminal Court (ICC) to hear a decision on his request for conditional release from prison. The ICC Appeals Chamber judges ordered their colleagues in the trial court to re-examine Gbagbo’s request, taking account notably of the time he has spent in preventive detention.
Whilst Laurent Gbagbo remains innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, how many Ivorians half a century ago would have believed such a trial possible?
Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, President of the ICC which is a permanent jurisdiction created by the international community to try the most serious crimes, did not lack modesty when she declared on International Justice Day that “the ICC has helped place the concept of justice and accountability permanently on the international agenda”.
“A permanent institution for addressing the gravest crimes has inspired the fight against impunity worldwide,” she continued. “The ICC represents a promise of justice and protection for victims of atrocious crimes.”
“A reality under attack”
Before the Statutes of the ICC were adopted in Rome on July 17, 1998, the United Nations had set up the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993 and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994. The ICTR closed its doors at the end of 2015, whilst the ICTY is due to finish its work by the end of this year, leaving Humanity with a rich jurisprudence, from which the ICC and other international criminal courts can draw.
“In the course of their proceedings, these Tribunals have been at the forefront of articulating and applying international law by clarifying the elements of international crimes and the various modes of individual criminal responsibility,” declared Judge Theodor Meron, President of the UN’s Mechanism managing the residual functions of these ad hoc tribunals. “And, importantly, the ICTY and the ICTR set the stage for the establishment of a diverse range of other international and hybrid criminal justice mechanisms across Africa, Asia and Europe.”
And so today, as stressed by JusticeInfo editorial advisor Pierre Hazan, “international justice is a reality”, even if it is “often denied, bullied or even in some cases manipulated”.
Moreover, attacks on international justice and attempts to manipulate it show that it is at work and that it is challenging impunity, even if the fight for justice needs to be tireless.