Conference Report: “Prosecuting Serious International Crimes: Exploring the Intersections between International and Domestic Justice Efforts”

By Nobuo Hayashi, Researcher, PluriCourts

On 30 March 2016, Cecilia Bailliet and Nobuo Hayashi attended a successful one-day conference in Washington, D.C. Entitled “Prosecuting Serious International Crimes: Exploring the Intersections between International and Domestic Justice Efforts”, this event celebrated the 20th anniversary of American University’s War Crimes Research Office (WCRO). PluriCourts was one of the co-sponsors, alongside the American Bar Association (ABA) Rule of Law Initiative, the American Society of International Law, and the American Red Cross.

Stephen Rapp, formerly US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice and Chief Prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, moderated the opening plenary. The ICC’s Anton Steynberg, Norway’s Siri Frigaard, Bosnia’s Jasmin Mesic, and Guatemala’s Claudia Paz y Paz shared their experiences and perspectives on what is needed to make the complementarity between domestic and international war crimes prosecutions work better.

Then followed two concurrent panels, one themed around a critical overview of domestic and hybrid justice efforts and the other around the lessons learned from external engagement in such efforts. The critical overview panel was chaired by Susana SáCouto, WCRO Director, and featured Eric Witte (Open Society Justice Initiative), Reed Brody (Human Rights Watch), Olivier Kambala (Checchi Consulting Company) and David Mandel-Anthony (US State Department) as speakers.

The lessons learned panel heard insightful presentations by Patricia Whalen on her experience as an International Judge at the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sandra Orlović on the current state of war crimes prosecutions in Serbia, Ina Zoon on Mexico’s struggling criminal justice system amid widespread disappearances, and Henry Rivera on ICC preliminary examinations, peace negotiations and their ramifications for criminal justice in Colombia.

David Tolbert, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice and a veteran in the field of international criminal justice, delivered the keynote address. He discussed the need to take domestic accountability for human rights violations seriously in view of the principle of complementarity. Juan Mendez, Professor of Human Rights Law at American University and UN Rapporteur on Torture, acting as discussant, echoed many of Tolbert’s observations.

The conference’s afternoon program proceeded with two concurrent panels. One panel considered complementarity and gender justice. Its speakers included Daniela Kravetz (UN Women), Amanda Rawls (ABA Rule of Law Initiative), Patricia Viseur Sellers (ICC Prosecutor’s Office) and Julissa Mantilla (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú), moderated by Anna Cave (US State Department).

Hayashi chaired the other concurrent panel on building a credible and legitimate international justice system. Jane Stromseth of Georgetown Law Center identified expectations, institutional capacity and legitimacy, as key challenges that the ICC faces today. She proposed four frameworks within which to consider the court’s impact, including its track record, as well as its role in catalyzing genuine domestic action, in deterrence and crime prevention, and in empowering civil society actors around justice. Todd Buchwald from the US State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice found that the “dividends” of international criminal justice had increased over time. In his view, while strengthening domestic institutions has reaped tangible benefits in some places, hybrid as well as international jurisdictions have also proved helpful in some others. The greatest challenges lie where none is available. Geoff Dancy, Assistant Professor at Tulane University, focused his presentation on how the ICC’s presence in situation countries may trigger positive consequences, albeit unintentionally. Using quantitative methods, he demonstrated the existence of a correlation between ICC intervention and phenomena such as a heightened public perception of justice and greater civil society mobilization. Richard Dicker, Director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, lamented renewed political divisions, austerity, accusations of an anti-African bias, and the migration crisis, as undermining international criminal justice. He nevertheless found other developments, such as greater attention to victims, the revival of universal jurisdiction, and the ICC overcoming its old conception as a product of democratic capitalism, encouraging. The panel concluded with a lively question-and-answer session.

Elizabeth Andersen, Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative, moderated the conference’s final plenary in which Elena Baylis (University of Pittsburgh), Charles Guy Makongo (ABA Rule of Law Initiative) and Paige Arthur (Public Action Research) explored practical guidance for constructive engagement between international and domestic justice practitioners.

Overall, the gathering struck a cautiously optimistic note on combining international and domestic efforts in this area. There is a widely held impression that the international criminal justice project has come under increasing strain, both nationally and internationally, in recent years. This conference demonstrated that the project can be reinvigorated through thinking afresh and sharing experiences among practitioners, experts and academics. We congratulate SáCouto and her colleagues on the WCRO’s accomplishments, as well as the excellent occasion they put together.

Tags: Criminal law By Nobuo Hayashi
Published Apr. 20, 2016 1:39 PM - Last modified Sep. 25, 2017 11:34 AM
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