When should the ICC step-in to investigate and prosecute mass atrocities? How have EU states been taking up this mantle? How has the ongoing refugee crisis enabled European states to target core international crimes committed in Syria and Iraq? What roles do states, civil society and institutions like the ICC have to play in the coordinated EU strategy? These were among the questions posed during the 1st EU Day Against Impunity.
The 1st #EUDayAgainstImpunity
May 23, 2016 saw the first ever European Union Day Against Impunity commemorated with an event in The Hague, the Netherlands.
Organized by the Netherlands – in its role as current President of the Council of the EU – the European Commission, the EU Genocide Network and Eurojust, the 1st EU Day Against Impunity aimed to
- Recognize the common efforts of EU Member States and the European Union in enforcing international criminal law;
- Address the position and participation of victims in criminal proceedings for these crimes; and
- Reinvigorate a Europe-wide commitment to the continuing fight against impunity for these crimes.
The event was opened by Ms. Michèle Coninsx, President of Eurojust; Mr. Ard van der Steur, Minister of Security and Justice of The Netherlands; and Ms. Věra Jourová, the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.
Read what the EU Genocide Network had to say following the 23 May event. You can also watch Eurojust President Michèle Coninsx and Minister Ard van der Steur of the Netherlands speaking at the 1st EU Day Against Impunity.
Three presentations showcased the work and success of investigating and prosecuting international crimes in Europe, with examples provided by prosecutors Ms. Aurélia Devos of the Tribunal de grande instance de Paris; Mr. WN Ferdinandusse of the National Division of the Dutch Department of Prosecutions; and Mr. Henrik Attorps of the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm.
The panel discussion that followed featured Mr. Gerard Dive, President of the Belgium Task Force for International Criminal Justice; Mr. Stephen Rapp, former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues and Distinguished Fellow at the Hague Institute for Global Justice; Mr. Jürgen Schurr, Head of Law and Policy, REDRESS; Ms. Cristina Ribeiro, deputy head of Investigations and Investigations Coordinator, ICC; and Ms. Marit Elisabeth Maij, Member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands.
Ms. Ribeiro emphasized that national prosecutions can target crimes and perpetrators that the ICC cannot, allowing the integrated strategy to cover as much ground as possible within any given situation of conflict or mass atrocities.
Ms. Maij was asked to speak about roles for parliamentarians as well as for EU institutions like the EU Parliament, whose members she noted must take a more critical approach when assessing the rule of law in one another’s national jurisdictions.
Mr. Dive insisted that the EU’s coordinated strategy would require specialized units, task forces, and “human and legal tools” dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Former Ambassador Rapp noted that it is impossible for life to continue with the way wars are being waged currently, for example in Syria. He suggested that events like the EU Day Against Impunity are valuable because they are public, invite the press and put people on notice about the global system of justice needed today.
Jürgen Schurr of REDRESS spoke to the challenges for victims of core international crimes during universal jurisdiction and extra-territorial cases in general, noting the difficulties that victims face when trying to obtain compensation in national legal systems, and the specific challenge of ensuring legal representation where victims are located far away from proceedings.
Mr. Schurr called for an EU coordinated response to ensure victims are provided clear information about their rights and how to participate in geographically remote proceedings. Here he envisioned one role for civil society: to bridge the outreach gap between the place of prosecution and affected communities.
Reactions to the 1st #EUDayAgainstImpunity
A group of Coalition for the ICC members – Amnesty International, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, TRIAL and REDRESS – issued a joint-statement welcoming the first EU Day Against Impunity. The statement calls on the EU and its member states to strengthen national prosecutions of crimes under international law, particularly in the context of the ongoing refugee crisis, which means that previously unavailable victims, witnesses, material evidence, and even some suspects are within the reach of judicial authorities within European states.
Using the hashtag #EUDayAgainstImpunity, observers following the discussions in The Hague via Twitter were quick to highlight the growing need for the impunity gap to be addressed, regardless of where the crimes occur.
Philip Grant, director of TRIAL, looked beyond Europe, noting that next week’s verdict in the case against ex-Chadian dictator Hissène Habré before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal could be another shining moment for extra-territorial jurisdiction over core international crimes.
The eyeWitness Project, which worked with Coalition member the International Bar Association (IBA) to develop the eyeWitness to Atrocities application, provided some additional statistics on national proceedings for core international crimes. eyeWitness also highlighted its own potential role in providing national prosecutors with video footage as evidence from remote conflict zones.
The International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) used the occasion to call for ensuring accountability for war crimes in Ukraine, which is currently under preliminary examination by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.
EU Genocide Network
This first in what is hoped to become an annual event was organized by the government of The Netherlands, which is currently holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). The EU has long been a staunch supporter of efforts to achieve justice for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Numerous policy frameworks and tools have been developed by the EU over the years to contribute to ensuring an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes.
The EU network of contact points for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (“EU Genocide Network”) is but one of the tools at the EU’s disposal for ensuring perpetrators of these crimes are prosecuted. Established in 2002, the EU Genocide Network brings together prosecutors, police investigators and other experts from the EU member states – responsible for dealing with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide – to exchange information, best practices, and specific experiences in investigating and prosecuting Rome Statute crimes at the national level.
In 2014, the EU Genocide Network adopted the Strategy of the EU Genocide Network to combat impunity for the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes within the European Union and its Member States to identify key challenges while providing recommendations for the successful national investigation and prosecution of core international crimes. The 1st EU Day Against Impunity finds its origins in the Strategy, which calls for the organization of a special event at EU level to commemorate the victims of core international crimes and to raise awareness and promote the fight against impunity.