Fighting for Rights: in discussion with Karine Bonneau

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by Marijn Thijs and Emily Howard

Karine Bonneau is the Director of International Justice for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The Federation works to defend all liberties set out by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, representing 184 human rights organisations from 112 countries. The Spoke caught up with Bonneau at the end of 2016, at the annual meeting for the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court, to talk about how clear, effective and representative the ICC is for NGOs campaigning on international criminal cases.

Let’s start from the beginning. How do NGOs and the FIDH go about the process of bringing a case to the ICC?

Normally we work closely with our national members which are independent NGOs in their countries and they are the ones requesting that the FIDH investigates or documents some crimes. For example, we worked a lot on the Central African Republic, we organised meetings in The Hague between these NGOs and victims and the Prosecutor to try to convince the Prosecutor to open this investigation – and we managed to do it.

Do you think that it’s clear for NGOs to know how to bring a case to the ICC?

It’s not so clear. First, because there are not so many languages spoken at the court. Even when you read the judgment it’s mostly all in English, so people don’t have access to the judgment for their countries. There is a clear lack of knowledge. Outreach activities are very minimum including in registered countries. The ICC is doing outreach and it’s great, but more needs to be done to NGOs I think. There is no field office for the court in all these situations, in all these countries, and if you do not have field visits it is also very complicated to access the Court, because you know, you may not have internet or you may not have the right number. Their website is…

Bonneau trails off, shaking her head in frustration.

“If you do not increase the budget you cannot increase the investigations”

Do you think the cases at the ICC are representative of the global cases that need to be brought there?

It’s a difficult question because obviously not, when you consider the crimes being committed today, but also because the ICC has a very limited jurisdiction. So, we would say that the crimes in Syria and Iraq should be also the ones investigated and prosecuted by the Court, but that’s not possible now. The cases now – mostly in Africa – are because their countries refer themselves to the Court and it was very grave cases.

She hits her stride, talking passionately and critically about the limited budget given to the ICC by the registered States and how little is devoted to victims.

The ICC only has the budget to have one investigation this year. We don’t know for next year because the States said they don’t want to increase the budget, but if you do not increase the budget you cannot increase the investigations. When you look at the budget of the Court, I think that it is not even half the budget of the Tribunal for Lebanon… you can criticise the Court but it just cannot do it.

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Image from The Justice Hub, 1 December 2015 https://justicehub.org/article/icc-budget-leaves-lot-be-desired

This Court is the first one who recognised victims’ access and victims’ right to participate and receive reparations. But it’s very challenging how the ICC is now implementing victims’ rights and that’s something we’re working a lot on: to make sure that they receive legal aid; that they can access the Court; that they can be represented by some lawyers; and that they can receive reparations. It’s a very big difficulty because States are very narrow-minded and very budget-minded, and they think that it’s going to expand a lot the cost of the proceedings, which is not true in practice. All the costs on victims is only 4% of the ICC budget, which is nothing. So, it’s also a real challenge for us, too.

Bonneau sees progress in the recent ASP meeting, which discussed developments in the ICC’s scope and budget.

Here in the ASP we are fighting for the States to give budget for the courts to investigate. We [the FIDH] are really working to expand the jurisdiction of the Court. It’s good that the ICC now starts to really expand its scope of activities like the investigation in Georgia and apparently in Afghanistan soon.

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