With the highly politicized crimes against humanity trial of ex-Côte d’Ivoire president Laurent Gbagbo and ally Charles Blé Goudé opening in The Hague this week, the need for effective ICC outreach and communication in the country has never been greater. But much needed steps to bring the ICC closer to victims and affected communities risk failure if not adequately resourced.
Outreach: an uphill battle
While victims of atrocity crimes are at the heart of the ICC’s work, local communities often find it difficult to understand or follow courtroom proceeding far away in The Hague. Ongoing efforts to strengthen the Court’s presence in the field are an important opportunity for reform, but can only succeed with adequate resources.
Several ICC offices have been engaged in making justice more visible over the past years. The Court’s registry, predominately through its outreach unit, promotes better understanding of the Court in ICC situation countries. Outreach is also vital to reducing security threats and creating conditions conducive to the Court’s operations more generally, for example by facilitating victim participation.
However, static budgets and understaffing coupled with an increasing number of investigations has forced the outreach unit to restrict its activities to victims directly affected by crimes in cases that reach trial stage. This has meant that other victims and communities are by and large not provided for.
There are also huge information needs not being met in situations where the ICC is conducting preliminary examinations, including Ukraine, Palestine, Colombia, Nigeria, among others.
Elizabeth Evenson, senior international justice counsel, Human Rights Watch
“The ICC acts on a global stage, but the heart of its mandate is delivering justice to communities affected by mass atrocities. ICC officials need to make sure that what the court does resonates in those communities. Strengthening the court’s impact on the ground shouldn’t be an afterthought. ICC member countries should ensure the court has sufficient resources to make justice count locally.”
Missteps in Côte d’Ivoire
In 2015, Human Rights Watch reported on the link between limited resources for outreach and persistent negative opinions of the ICC in Côte d’Ivoire. It found that perceptions of bias arising from the prosecution’s focus on former president Laurent Gbagbo and his allies were compounded by outreach that targeted only victims directly affected by a few specific incidents of grave crimes that the cases focused on.
Additionally, an outreach staff member was not deployed to Côte d’Ivoire until October 2014 due to a lack of funds, some three years after the investigation opened. If one lesson can be drawn from the ICC’s early years, it is that outreach to key local stakeholders at the earliest opportunity is critical.
With the politically sensitive Gbagbo trial—charged together with ally Charles Blé Goudé—opening at the ICC in January 2016, it is critical that outreach staff are present in Côte d’Ivoire to communicate key messages and counter misinformation throughout the proceedings.
Ali Ouattara, president of the Côte d’Ivoire Coalition for the ICC
“The ICC field office brings welcome visibility for the ICC in Côte d’Ivoire. However, the delay in its opening and insufficient staffing are negatively impacting public opinion. Many Ivoirians perceive the ICC as a justice of the winners. The Court still needs enhance its communication and outreach activities to address misinformation damaging its image, targeting all victims regardless their political allegiance, and improve the efficiency of its administration of justice.”
“As the Gbagbo/Blé Goudé trial is a highly politicized in Côte d’Ivoire, it is critical that ICC staff are present in the country to communicate key messages and counter misinformation throughout the proceedings. However, it appears that this will not be the case for the trial opening. We urge the ICC, and the states that fund the Court, to ensure that this dangerous situation does not continue.”
In 2015-16, a restructuring plan—the ReVision project—aims to create a new division within the ICC registry for external relations and field-related functions, with greater resources and staffing for field offices. It envisages high-level heads of office empowered to engage at the diplomatic and political levels, becoming the in-country face of the Court.
The ReVision represents a critical opportunity for the ICC to bring justice closer to victim and affected communities by embedding lessons learned from the first years of its operations. But without appropriate funding, the plan stands little chance of succeeding. ICC member states who support an effective and efficient ICC now need to insist that the registry has the resources to make an enhanced field presence reality.
Alison Smith, director of the international criminal Justice program, No Peace Without Justice.
“It is essential that the ICC and state parties make a strong commitment to effective outreach and to increase the ICC’s field presence, which in the past decade was sadly lacking. The ReVision process is critical for ensuring that the ICC can have a useful and positive impact in countries where it works. But there is a real danger that it will founder without sufficient funds.”
This article was originally published in the 2015-16 Global Justice Monitor, the annual international justice review of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a civil society network in 150 countries.
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