The International Criminal Court (ICC)’s 18 judges are entrusted with adjudicating cases on the most serious crimes according to a complex set of international criminal law rules. This is why electing candidates capable of fulfilling that task to the highest standard is one of the most fundamental decisions that the ICC Assembly of States Parties (ASP) makes every three years. In our 2019 report, Raising the Bar, we found that significant improvements are needed to ensure the election of the most qualified individuals. Among other findings, we noted the overwhelming lack of legal frameworks governing national nomination of judicial candidates, failure to nominate and elect judges who possess the qualifications to manage complex criminal litigation, and a toxic vote-trading and campaigning culture that contribute to further corrupting the ICC’s judicial election process.
This year, the ASP will elect six new judges and has the opportunity to change course. In December 2019, the ASP adopted a resolution introducing adjustments to the election process. Those include advancing the nomination calendar earlier in the year, strengthening the mandate of the Advisory Committee on Nominations of Judges, and organizing state-led roundtables with all judicial candidates.
This years’ ASP, scheduled to take place in December, also has another prominent election on its agenda, that of the next ICC prosecutor. There is reason to believe that the same deficiencies we identified in the election of judges could apply to the election of the prosecutor. Recognizing the risk of an election not fully based on merit, the ASP set up a process early in 2019, creating a Committee for the Election of the Prosecutor (CEP) and an advisory panel of experts. The CEP released its final report including a shortlist of candidates in June, and states are currently holding consultations to identify a consensus candidate. Some have expressed reservations about the shortlisted candidates and are calling for other candidates to be nominated or to re-introduce candidates that the CEP assessed and decided not to shortlist, a move that we at the Open Society Justice Initiative consider would severely undermine the process and risk further politicizing the election.
To support this year’s elections, the Justice Initiative has joined 24 other civil society organizations to present questionnaires for both sets of candidates (see here and here). All four shortlisted prosecutor candidates and 20 judicial candidates have been invited to fill them in. Their responses will be posted online in the coming weeks. The questionnaires take forward a tradition put in place in 2003 under the umbrella of the Coalition for the ICC. Civil society has played a crucial role in publicizing ICC elections and undertaking public enquiries relating to the candidates to contribute to transparent elections. As part of those endeavors, civil society organized public roundtables with judicial candidates. While we are proud that this tradition has now been adopted as a formal part of the process and the roundtables will be organized by the ASP itself, we hope that civil society will continue to play a key role in ensuring that candidates are offered a public, equal and non-political opportunity to introduce themselves.
As the election season reaches its peak, the Justice Initiative will continue to actively monitor developments, and advocate for fair, transparent and merit-based elections.