A Better Tool for Ensuring International Justice

People watching a small television
Relatives of a victim of the 2010 post-election violence in the Ivory Coast watch former President Laurent Gbagbo appearing before the International Criminal Court in The Hague on February 19, 2013. © Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty

Recently, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published a short video in which young law students from around the world talk of the importance of the International Criminal Court (ICC). “It is not just dealing with the past,” said Claudine Zaarour, a student from Lebanon, “It’s a deterrent against future crimes.” For Joshua Ndoko, at the University of Nottingham in England, “a stronger ICC is better for the world.”

The video reflects the commitment of the world’s two leading human rights groups—and of the young people it features—to an institution that was created 20 years ago this month, with the adoption of the Rome Statute by a United Nations conference on July 17, 1998. The anniversary comes as the ICC is once again facing intense criticism—this time, over its acquittal of Congolese politician and militia leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, a decade after he was first arrested on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Back in the 1990s, the Open Society Foundations, under its then president Aryeh Neier, helped support the diplomatic efforts that eventually led to the Rome Statute, building on its earlier support for the creation of ad hoc tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Today, we continue to support the ICC’s mission and the broader effort to ensure accountability for grave crimes—including through the Open Society Justice Initiative’s commitment to our International Justice Monitor website—which is dedicated to making the day-to-day proceedings of the court understandable to as wide an audience as possible.

This month we are delighted to announce that the site has been redesigned to make it more accessible and more usable, with a range of new features. Readers can find information and background not only on trials at the ICC, but also on local trials in Guatemala focused on atrocities committed by the military during the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict, and on the continuing saga of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. 

Our International Justice Monitor project did not start with the ICC. In 2007, when the Special Court for Sierra Leone shifted the venue for the trial of Charles Taylor from Freetown to the Hague, we launched daily reporting on the trial aimed at Sierra Leonian and Liberian media. Journalists who could not afford to spend months in the Hague used our monitoring instead to inform their reports for audiences across both countries and for their diasporas—an approach that remains at the core of what we are trying to do.

Over the years, International Justice Monitor has used a straightforward, journalistic style of reporting for some of the most significant international criminal trials of our time, and has earned a reputation for accuracy, transparency, independence, and trustworthiness while working with local partners to transmit this information.

As Pamela Yates, the creative director of Skylight, a human rights media organization, says that the site “has been an essential tool for me in making documentary films about human rights and the quest for justice,” particularly its coverage of the genocide trial in Guatemala of former dictator Ríos Montt. Kate Allen, a former BBC correspondent in East and South Africa told us that our work is “really important …. These institutions, or at least the ideals, need to be supported.”

Beyond the courtroom, we share commentary with perspectives from victims’ communities and others from the local level about the trials we monitor. Nika Jeiranashvili, the executive director of Justice International, reflected that International Justice Monitor “is one of the extremely limited platforms where [the] international community can hear voices of the victims in the ICC Georgia situation.”

In Uganda, we collaborate with Lino Owor Ogora, the cofounder of the Foundation for Justice and Development Initiatives, based in Gulu, northern Uganda, in order to ensure local perspectives on the trials for crimes perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army are included in the debate on accountability surrounding the current trials of Dominic Ongwen and Thomas Kwoyelo. Ogora says that he hears “very diverse opinions regarding the trial. Many of these views would never reach the ears for which they are intended, if not for valuable platforms like the IJ Monitor.”

We hope our newly designed site, with clearer direction to our French language monitoring reports, will continue to help expand awareness about accountability for atrocities. We also hope it contributes, at least in a modest way, to a broader understanding of what international justice is and how it works. Because, in the words of law student Joshua Ndoko: “The ICC is the best hope we have.”

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