The International Criminal Court (ICC) attempts to address massive human rights abuses, often involving thousands of victims. Reaching a determination of justice, with the right rulings and appropriate sentences, requires qualified and impartial judges. The election of judges at the ICC are relevant to ensure the continued credibility, transparency and impartiality of the institution.
What can be done to guarantee that nominees for the ICC bench are qualified for the position?
The ICC is a young institution, therefore there is still time to cement in place a merit-based election process that avoids some of the questionable practices or “bad habits” in creating prior tribunals, at both national and international levels, such as:
- only those candidates who are politically close to those in power or have some political influence being nominated by their State;
- the nomination process being controlled by a small group of polititians and/or diplomats, therefore preventing possible candidates from running because they were not aware of how to apply or they received information late;
- a lack of publicity about the openings, resulting in some states not offering candidates and some legal systems not being represented;
- states being unaware of how other states voted for particular candidates; and
- prevalence of “vote trading,” as in other UN appointments.
There are no doubt other “bad habits” that I am missing, but let me put it this way–negotiators at the 1998 Rome Conference recognized those noted above providing means of avoiding them in several provisions in the Rome Statute.
The Role of Civil Society
Another important point to note in ensuring credible and transparent election of ICC officials is the role of civil society or non-governmental organizations.
Considered by many officials such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as “the force behind the ICC,” NGOs were vital before, during and after the Rome Conference in the fight for the fair and independent Court. The Coalition for the ICC (CICC)–a group of currently over 2500 civil society groups operating in 150 countries–and like-minded governments succeeded in securing important provisions in the Rome Statute to enhance qualifications, foster genuine elections, and insure equitable gender representation.
During the inaugural election of judges in 2003, Argentine NGOs rejected the nomination of Dr. Antonio Boggiano, a former Supreme Court justice, because the process was not transparent and civil society learned about it only when it was formally presented by the Argentine mission to the United Nations. The same year, civil society groups in Peru endorsed the nomination of a female judge, but her ‘nomination papers’ never arrived…. Was it the only case? I am sure it was not.
NGOs continue to promote free and fair elections for the Court. Earlier this year, the Coalition launched the Campaign on International Criminal Court Elections in to promote greater transparency and merit-based nominations of highly qualified officials in this year’s election. More information on this effort can be found at the Coalition’s website.
We all know bad habits die hard, but in the end, they do die.
Let’s hope we see more of them pass away in this year’s ICC elections.
(Photo courtesy of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court.)