International Criminal Court (ICC) Registrar Herman von Hebel agreed to speak with the Open Society Justice Initiative in June 2014. In the first part of the interview he discusses the Registry’s restructuring project, how to improve communications, and what it is like working with states parties.
Taegin Reisman (TR): You have undertaken a restructuring exercise, known as the ReVision Project, within the Registry. How long is this process expected to last, and based on what has been done so far, has there been more efficiency in the Registry’s practices?
Herman von Hebel (HvH): The entire project is expected to last about a year and a half. We got started on the first of January this year. I recognize not everyone at the court is feeling entirely comfortable about it because they have spent the whole time … studying the whole system, from the Rome Statute to every single CBF [Committee on Budget and Finance] report, ASP [Assembly of States Parties] resolution, facilitation, consultants, experts, and any recommendation that we can find out there. We also had a staff survey that was a survey of 150 questions to answer, and, therefore it took quite a bit of time to analyze all that information as well.
Now, this is the moment where we actually get to the stage of taking decisions. The first step is to put a high–level design in place. We have all kinds of sections, but we were not sure that the way the sections were organized and the way their mandates were organized were right. What we have been looking at is what are our functions and how do those functions – basically as if starting from scratch again – translate into sections.
We are coming up with a new structure. There will be a new division with a lot of focus on field operations. Some sections that are there may disappear. Some new ones may pop-up, but the overall structure will be simpler, and in my view, more logical than what we have so far.
Regarding the design, that is a decision that we are going to take up in the next two to three weeks. The retreat [with Registry staff] that took place … showed a huge consensus on the big design. Apart from a few dissident voices on bits and pieces, overall there is consensus for 70 to 80 percent as to what the new registry should look like. It was a very positive development. Now, we can finalize that and have a new structure in place. Of course we will have to discuss it with the judges, the prosecutor, and our clients, who have to agree and have to see the advantages as well.
Then we go into the stage of much more detail because then we really go into all the different functions of the new sections as to how best to organize. Also, within sections there have been issues of inefficiencies, bureaucracy, too much paperwork, workflow that was not logical, too much micromanagement at the section level or section head level, etc. There we might see some efficiency – maybe less people or the same amount of people – but more capability to actually deal with fluctuations in work requirements. We hope to wrap that up by March of next year. Then we have the last three months of the project … that will be focused on providing a final report, maybe coming up with further recommendations as to further efficiencies with the project that we may want to focus on. Roughly, by this time next year, we should be finished.
TR: During our discussion last year, you mentioned that communication, especially internally, within the Registry was an area that needed to be strengthened. Can you give an example of how the ReVision Project will help in this area?
HvH: When we got the outcome of the staff survey … less than five percent of the staff thinks that the present structure and present culture is good. That basically means that 95 percent [of staff] thinks it’s not good. That figure is pretty impressive and shows the urgency and need for change.
There are a number of clusters of issues we are focusing on, whether it is internal communications, whether it is the level of collaboration, all these kinds of things. Whenever it comes down to internal communications, top-down, bottom-up, among sections, diagonally, vertically, horizontally … it was a constant negative. Huge percentages of people saying this is not good. And it showed. People were basically working within their own sections and often had a positive idea that they are doing a good job, but at the same time were not sufficiently aware of what was happening in the section next door or the section thereafter.
Although it is one registry, people don’t have the feeling like they are actually working within one registry. They see what they are doing within their own part of it, but they don’t see the big picture. They don’t feel connected to the big picture. The sense of ownership is lacking as well.
Internal communication, strengthening reporting lines and management structures, these kinds of things really have to work a lot [better] in order to mend that.
TR: One of the other major challenges you flagged was obtaining more resources for the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), and the ASP approved a €121 million budget for 2014, which is an increase of over €6 million from the previous year. Will you again work with the OTP to push for more funding increases in the lead up to this year’s ASP?
HvH: It works well. I’ve had a few meetings with Fatou [Bensouda] and with James Stewart. I keep on beating the same drum as last year. There is a new strategy from the prosecutor … a four year strategy. We have achieved quite a lot with the approval for the budget for this year – the €6.5 million increase. It was much less than what we asked for, but it is a very good start. We still have to have more.
I think also what the states parties need is confirmation that the new strategy [of the prosecutor] is actually working. Those two recent decisions in the Ntaganda confirmation and in the Gbagbo confirmation are the first proof of the effectiveness and the need of that new structure. It is a good start. We are not there yet. I continue to make the case with states parties. I was in Canada a few weeks ago as well, and I mentioned [this] at that time. We need to continue with that story.
At the same time, I think in most other parts of the budget, we can be budget-neutral. What I am trying to do in the Registry … is to try and minimize – or maybe even reduce – the additional requirements for the Registry and simply show I can be more efficient. At the same time, that is not a message for the entire court. That is my message. Maybe it should also apply to the other major programs, Trust Fund, Secretariat, and a couple of other things. For the prosecutor, and also the judiciary, there is a need for an increase, and for the OTP there is a need for considerable increase.
TR: What has your experience been like working with the ASP?
HvH: It is a fascinating relationship, and I mean that in a positive way. The crucial concept I am using is trusted partnership. I think what has been missing is exactly that. There was, for many years, not proper communication between the court and the states parties. States parties were not convinced that the court was really working in the most efficient way. The communication of our budget, the communication of our needs was not optimally given shape, so there was a lack of trust. What to do in a situation like that is … ask more and more questions. So the court became more and more defensive, and the result was a vicious cycle. And that cycle had to be broken. And it was for the court to break that cycle.
I think we’ve made enormous progress over the last year by trying to rebuild that relationship. I now see the states parties … as a trusted partner for us. I think basically that the relationship … is for the court to ask the states parties: what do you need from us in order for you guys to have trust in that we are doing a good job. At the same time states parties should come to the court and say: what do you need from us in order for you as a court to be able to function effectively. If you then look at the complementary role we can play with each other, I think we can go in the right direction. We had that discussion also recently with the bureau in New York a few weeks ago. I think there is general recognition that this is the direction that we have to go in. I think we are getting there.
Last year, the budget discussions went pretty smooth. There was of course a last minute hiccup with the position of Canada, but overall there was recognition that there is a new development going on with the court – that the court speaks with one voice. I support the prosecutor, the prosecutor supports me. We support the president. We work very strongly hand-in-hand with each other. States parties recognize that. What may have been a challenge last year, I see now as an opportunity. That is really about how we can be more for each other.
What is it that the states parties can do for us? Cooperation issues are still out there. More than half of our arrest warrants are still not implemented. There’s a role for states parties over there. Witness relocation issues – there’s a role for states parties over there. Freezing of assets – there’s a role for states parties over there. When we come to states parties and tell them that, they are receptive of that and recognize their role. I think we can work much better on that and leave behind the tensions and the element of lack of trust. There’s more to be done. I think we can make major strides in the right direction, and we’re already doing it.