When atrocities are committed, it is the community affected who are the first on the scene. Neighbors rush to find survivors in the rubble after bomb attacks against civilians in Syria. Family members gather to help find a missing loved one forcibly disappeared during political tensions in Sri Lanka. Local medical staff record injuries inflicted on their patients who have survived rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Communities are the first to take care of its members and, as a result, are the best placed to provide potential evidence that may lead to perpetrators being held responsible for their crimes. So why is this information at risk of not being found reliable in court?
International criminal law requires that information follow procedural rules before it can be considered reliable as evidence. This is necessary to ensure that the rights of the accused are upheld under fair trial standards. In recent years, the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has specified key points that are relevant for local actors engaged in human rights documentation, information gathering, and fact-finding. However, there is still much to be done to share these key points with the global community of local human rights defenders seeking to support international justice efforts in their communities. Likewise, local human rights defenders have vast experience on the realities of working to attain accountability for atrocity crimes, and it is necessary to share these experiences. The central challenge is the compilation and sharing of this guidance with those engaged in international justice efforts.
In an effort to respond to this challenge, local and regional human rights activists conducted a global consultation series over 2015 with the Open Society Justice Initiative. The discussions in 2015 sought to identify solutions to these challenges, and the key findings of these consultations can be found here. Over the course of 2016, the content of these discussions will be compiled into modules setting out the most important guidance on topics related to international justice for non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. The drafting of these modules is an open consultative process and each module will be highlighted on International Justice Monitor as it is drafted, for you to join the conversation.
The modules will be divided into key thematic areas. The first concerns ethics and safety, and a series of blogs will address the key findings related to ethics, physical security, digital security, and ICC protection systems.
The second thematic area of the modules seeks to locate the ICC within the context of accountability forums, by setting out the question of forum-choice for local actors and identifying when the ICC is relevant. Within this theme, modules will also address ICC ratification processes in national contexts, how a case begins at the ICC, admissibility issues, preliminary examinations processes, and how to engage in ICC advocacy.
The third thematic area relates to how individuals can interact with the ICC, including Article 15 submissions, amicus briefs, trial monitoring, outreach, victim participation, what to expect as a witness or a victim participating in legal proceedings, and intermediaries within the context of the ICC. The questions facing the work of intermediaries in turn address two key components: firstly, how intermediaries are identified and their corresponding roles within the ICC proceedings, and secondly, the aspects relating to the management of the engagement between intermediaries and the ICC.
The fourth thematic area shares insights on the ICC structure, law, and the key legal contexts such as the reparations process and proceedings relating to interference with the administration of justice, which have arisen in recent alleged instances of evidence tampering.
Finally, topics relating to the methodology of information-gathering will address best practices in databases management, witness management, including vulnerable witnesses such as children or sexual assault survivors, and the management of other means of proving international crimes, such as physical objects or documents.
Throughout the process of developing these modules, the central objective is to consider the realities of communities responding to atrocities, in order to translate the framework of international criminal law into an accessible format. For each module, the key items to remember will be set out with descriptions of the content and the implementation steps. Each module will be a living document, subject to your input and debate across global networks of practitioners and communities seeking justice. The ultimate hope is that, as experiences of international justice are shared, communities will have greater access to the necessary tools to turn their information into evidence.