The ICC is undergoing a major change this summer as the Registrar’s ReVision project results are implemented. The Registry will significantly change its organizational structure, and as many as 113 employees’ jobs will be affected. New Registry sections have been created and others abolished.
When Registrar Herman von Hebel spoke with IJ Monitor about the ReVision program last year, he said that his goal was to make a simpler and more logical organization, and one that operated as “one registry.” Significant changes include the creation of a Division on External Affairs and Field Operations, and the possible creation of two separate offices in the Registry for the defense and for victims.
The Assembly of States Parties’ (ASP) authorized the project in 2013 (see resolution 1) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Registry. The ASP also hoped that the Registrar could reduce the department’s budget at the same time. Over the last year and a half, the Registrar and a special team of internal and external experts reviewed the Registry’s organizational structure and made proposals for adjustments.
Such significant change at the ICC has caught the attention of court observers. Many have concerns about the impact of the proposed new structure, especially regarding victims’ legal representation, institutional representation of the voice of the defense, and staff morale.
Currently, victims’ services are spread among various offices, including the Office of Public Counsel for Victims, the Victims Participation and Reparations Section, and the Counsel Support Section (CSS), each focusing respectively on direct legal representation of certain groups of victims, dissemination and processing of victim application forms, and management for external counsel representing victims in various cases. Under the ReVision proposals, all victim-related functions would be consolidated into a single Victims Office. This is intended to improve how the Registry provides assistance and support to victims. However, several organizations have raised concerns about the potential impact on victims’ independent representation, restrictions in choice of counsel and possible conflicts of interests that the adoption of a single Victims Office would entail.
REDRESS, for example, expressed concern that this new office will mean the Registry will appoint lawyers for victims, which they contend could violate the victims’ right to choose a legal representative. Former ICC judge Lord Justice Fulford echoed this view. FIDH worried that this structure could mean that victims would have lawyers who are employees of the ICC instead of external legal advice—which they argue could mean victims’ legal representation is not independent and could create conflicts of interest given the lawyers’ institutional affiliation with the ICC. FIDH also requested more details on how victims would be supported in the field, which they view as critical to victims’ meaningful participation. Others noted that this change could threaten the independence of victims’ counsel and could make it more difficult for victims to communicate with the court. In response to some of these concerns, the Registry introduced some changes to its original proposal. However, some organizations have pointed out that the proposal lacks sufficient detail and that more information is needed to ascertain whether the rights of victims will be respected.
The ReVision proposals also involve a similar consolidation of services for defense counsel. The independent Office of Public Counsel for Defense (OPCD) and the CSS currently provide services for defense counsel. While OPCD focuses on substantive support and legal research, CSS provides logistical assistance and manages the legal aid system. Under the ReVision plan, a new Registry Defense Office would handle all defense-related functions except for legal representation of defendants, which would be carried out by independent external counsel. The Registrar also proposed the creation of a self-governing Association of Counsel to represent counsels’ interests before the ICC.
This change has also generated concerns. Lord Justice Fulford noted that it could restrict the OPCD’s ability to represent individual accused at any stage of the proceedings. The International Bar Association was concerned that positioning the new defense office within the Registry could undermine its independence. A major concern expressed by several bar associations has been that abolition of the OPCD would mean that there would be no entity within the court that could ensure that the voice of the defense is heard on institutional matters.
The creation of the new victims and defense offices requires the judges to make amendments to the regulations of the court. The Registrar has presented its plans to the judges, and debates about the issue are ongoing at the court.
What is certain about the ReVision project, however, is that it affects a large number of staff in the Registry. The program abolished the jobs of 113 staff members. These individuals can decide whether they want to apply for a new job as a primary candidate, or opt for a package of benefits if they decide to leave the ICC.
The Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ) and Africa Legal Aid worry that these staff changes disproportionately affect African employees. According to statistics provided by the Registry, WIGJ has concluded that the ReVision project has abolished 36% of the professional posts occupied by Africans (9 of 25 posts). WIGJ also noted that it appears that Africans are under-represented in senior leadership positions in the Registry.
Data provided by the Registry indicate that more men will lose their positions than women: men occupy 60.18% (68 of 113) of the abolished jobs. According to the Registry, “the geographical and gender distribution of affected staff members in Professional category is comparable to the current geographical and gender distribution among Professional staff in established positions at the Court and in the Registry (for the Registry, this is WEOG – 61,24%; Africa – 14,73%; Asia – 6,20%; Eastern Europe – 8,53%; and GRULAC – 9,30%).” The Registry has also noted that it expects most affected staff to reapply for newly created positions as priority candidates, so there will not be a significant shift in the geographic distribution and gender balance in the Registry. Gender and geographic balance will also be taken into account in recruiting new staff to the Registry, the Registry indicated.
Undoubtedly, such a significant change within the Registry has a far-reaching impact. Africa Legal Aid has noted that as a result, the morale of Registry staff is low, which it argues could affect the work of the court and judges. Indeed, five ICC judges expressed their concerns about the ReVision program in a widely distributed memo this June to the ICC president, which noted the impact of the ReVision measures on staff morale and its potential to impinge on judicial work and the image of the court. The judges requested the president to suspend implementation and thoroughly assess its implications.
In another widely distributed memo in July, the president pointed to indications of low staff morale prior to the ReVision project, but acknowledged that staff morale is “currently probably at a low point.” She recommended conducting a staff survey to evaluate morale and potential areas for improvement once the ReVision staff changes have been completed. The president also outlined how many of the ReVision project’s changes can positively influence the work of the judges.