In this episode, we introduce you to Yasmina Gourchane. She's an Advocacy Officer at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. We focus on Yasmina's entry into civil society advocacy and her work at the CICC.
In the next episode, we will go behind the scenes into the broader work of the organization.
For more on the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, go to: https://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/
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Episode 5 - Interview with Yasmina Gourchane - Coalition for the International Criminal Court - Part 1
[00:00:05] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Hello and welcome to Just Access! In this podcast series, we talk to some fascinating people, legal experts, academics and human rights advocates, and we explore ideas about the future of human rights and improving access to justice for all. I'm Dr. Miranda Melcher, a Senior Legal Fellow at Just Access, and over the next two episodes, I speak with Yasmina Gourchane.
[00:00:28] She's an Advocacy Officer at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. In this first episode, we focus on Yasmina's entry into civil society advocacy and her work at the CICC. In the second episode, we go behind the scenes into the broader work of the organization.
[00:00:52] So I was wondering if you could maybe start us off by introducing yourself a little bit, where you're from, where you studied, what you studied, before we get into your career.
[00:01:04] Yasmina Gourchane: Sure! So, I am from New York. I grew up just outside of New York City and I think that's definitely quite part of my personality. And I ended up studying at university here in New York, I went to Fordham University in Manhattan, and I think that was definitely an advantage - just being placed in New York City, it's really an exciting place to be, definitely not a traditional college campus experience and sort of like operating in the real world.
[00:01:32] I studied international studies, which is really quite generic, but I think the advantage of that was I was able to shape it into what I wanted and when I first started learning about the ICC, I was like, oh, I like this. So I ended up really kind of tailoring the classes that I take and my thesis around the ICC and international justice more broadly.
[00:01:52] So that's sort of where I started and how I kind of got interested in this ICC work in general.
[00:01:57] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Wonderful! That sounds like a great way in, just being kind of surrounded by it a little bit, getting a taste before you have to commit and exploring the possibility. So thank you for sharing that with us. How did you get involved in Civil society advocacy?
[00:02:12] Yasmina Gourchane: I think I always wanted to do something international, but I wasn't really sure what specifically and then I learned about the ICC in a course on international law and I was really fascinated by this institution and the work that it does. I had a lot of opportunities, I would say, for different internships and positions in the city and at the time I had an internship with one of the ICC's offices here in New York when the president of the Assembly of State Parties was working out of one of the missions here at the UN.
[00:02:45] So I had the opportunity to work there and I think it was a very formative experience for me, seeing how the ICC worked and all the dynamics between the different state parties and how that all played into the work that they do at the UN, for example. But then after that internship I had an opportunity to work with the Coalition for the ICC, also as an intern.
[00:03:06] And I think there I really saw how civil society plays a really key role in the work of the ICC and it's a really diverse place to work, I would say. And I think it's quite useful to see how all of these different organizations bring the voices of victims and effective communities and brings a really human element to the work of the Court as well, so I really appreciated being a part of that and kind of playing this really unique role after having worked, I would say, in a more formal role with the Court at the UN and I really, really appreciated that. And then from there I sort of continued working with a few different civil society organizations and now I really think I'm very much a civil society person and I can't really see myself working at the court necessarily. I do really appreciate this large network of civil society and the voices that they bring to the table.
[00:03:55] Dr. Miranda Melcher: So tell us a little bit more about the Coalition for the International Court, the CICC, what are its main things If someone's never heard of it before, how might you introduce it?
[00:04:06] Yasmina Gourchane: Sure! So the Coalition for the ICC is a global network of civil society organizations all working in partnership to really advance the goals of the ICC and ensure that its work is as fair, effective and independent as possible. And what does that mean in real life? How do we actually work?
[00:04:24] I would say we've got a large global network and we operate in 150 different countries. We have members in all of the situation countries where the Court operates and we have large international organizations, we have sort of smaller, more domestically focused organizations with specific mandates and our members all work together to ensure that the Court is, first of all, universal, working towards universal ratification of the ICC, ensuring that there are strong domestic laws to help deliver justice to victims of Rome Statute crimes, ensuring that there's political support and cooperation with the ICC and making sure that victims in effective communities have a voice at the ICC.
[00:05:06] So the CICC is led by a small secretariat of which I am a part. We have colleagues in New York, Brussels, the Hague and Barcelona, and we really kind of provide a platform for our members and to help support their goals really - whether that's information sharing or providing access to institutions like the ICC, like the UN. We also, I would say, have another sort of element of communications in which we spread, or we promote awareness of the ICC and the work of the institution.
[00:05:42] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Thank you for that comprehensive introduction! Can you then help us link those - your work, getting involved in civil society and kind of what the organization does within all of those very cool sounding things. What is your specific role? What do you work on in a given day?
[00:06:00] Yasmina Gourchane: Well, I think that's also sort of why I like my job is because no two days are the same. And I've been here for, I'd say five or six years I think now and I'd say I haven't had the same day twice. And of course working for a small NGO, everybody sort of does a little bit of everything so, you know, you have to kind of be constantly on your toes to see what's around the corner.
[00:06:22] But in my current role, I'm an Advocacy and Program Officer and I work quite closely with my counterpart, who's based in The Hague and I would say our work is sort of two pronged: on one side, we have the advocacy that we do with governments, at these institutions like the UN and the ICC and kind of monitoring developments as they come up.
[00:06:41] But then another kind of major part of our work is also supporting the work of our members and that again is providing them with information and access, ensuring that they have the tools to really succeed and advance their own goals at these institutions. Again, I work in New York, so I monitor quite closely what happens at the UN, you know, if I'm at a Security Council meeting and I hear something that might be relevant for a project that some of our members are working on, I'll make note of it and flag it for them, you know, share a draft resolution, text with them, something like that, to help support them. Maybe they don't have representation in New York, or, you know, they don't have capacity to follow these meetings, things like that. So we sort of try and fill the gap in that way.
[00:07:22] We also follow a number of developments that take place kind of more specifically within the Assembly of State Parties of the ICC and the Assembly of State Parties is, I guess you could almost say the sort of the legislative arm of the ICC, where the states that make up the ICC come together to discuss different areas of interest or different issues that are relevant to the Court, whether cooperation with the Court or elections or budget, things like that.
[00:07:52] So I follow quite closely this ongoing review process. There's a process to kind of assess the ICC and the broader Rome Statute system, and there's been quite a lot of follow up work, making sure that civil society has a role to play in this and can share their views with this whole process.
[00:08:08] I also serve as our membership lead when, you know, the coalition is constantly growing. So I will be in touch with new members, making sure that they know what we do at the coalition, processing applications, giving information to different NGOs who maybe wanna join our network, letting them know what we do and how they can be part of our network.
[00:08:31] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Wonderful. We can definitely see how there's not gonna be any similar days there or repeat days. So lots and lots going on, particularly given that you've been involved with the CICC for five or six years now and obviously in the broader space longer than that. Things have changed a lot in the past few years, so I was wondering if you might be able to provide some insight given that time about NGOs working in sort of the UN space. Has access for civil society and NGOs changed since you started in this field? What does that trend look like?
[00:09:06] Yasmina Gourchane: I'd say it's been definitely up and down. I think Covid, of course, has played a huge role in this. I think, you know, making sure that NGOs have access to these institutions is always really key and always is a part of our work and I think we sort of lost a bit of traction during Covid because, you know, you can't physically access the premises, thinking more specifically of the UN, which I have a bit more experience working with. One thing I think has been interesting with Covid in the pandemic is on one hand there's a bit more access because a lot has become virtual and you know, if you don't have a physical presence in New York all the time, pre Covid, you didn't always have access to meetings and governments and things that happen at these institutions. But since things have shifted to a more virtual space, I think that sort of allowed a lot of groups who maybe didn't have space, the space to really engage.
[00:10:08] That being said, I think there was quite a bit of time that we, as civil society didn't have access to the UN even after governments came back, after UN officials came back, even press came back, they still weren't allowing access to NGOs. And that's all shifted now. First we were granted some access and now things are sort of back to normal.
[00:10:28] So I think it's been up and down and something that we definitely need to monitor and always sort of raise the alarm bells if we notice that civil society access is slipping once again.
[00:10:38] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Yeah. Very important to keep an eye on that. In the same sort of vein, given your experience with the ICC and the UN in general, are there any particular or striking changes you've noticed in the organizations over the time you've been involved with them?
[00:10:53] Yasmina Gourchane: I guess so. I think, you know, with the ICC, I'd say it's still a relatively young institution.You know, next year we're celebrating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Rome statute, which sounds like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things it's not super long. You know, just a couple years ago ICC got a new prosecutor and he's only the third prosecutor that the Court has had thusfar. So I think just with kind of a change in part of this leadership, adjusting to a new style of work with this new prosecutor has definitely been a change that we've noticed.
[00:11:25] I think also a big one is the geographical scope of the Court. A number of years ago a big criticism of the Court was that it was only focused on Africa and it really alienated a lot of African governments from engaging with the Court. That being said, now the Court has this very wide geographical scope, you know, they're working on cases in Venezuela and Georgia, the Philippines, Central African Republic, Ukraine, so it's kind of all over the map. I think that's also been an interesting shift for us too at Civil Society is really working with members from across the globe and making those connections there. So that's something that we've definitely also noticed.
[00:12:02] I think also, as I said too, with this changing geographical scope, I think that impacts the workload of the Court where it's really, it's spread pretty thin, I would say, working on a lot of different cases and situations. You know, there's 17 investigations going on at the Court right now. And the Court has limited resources in terms of both human and financial resources. So making sure that it's really able to dedicate it to time to all these cases and situations has been definitely something that has taken quite a bit of work as well.
[00:12:32] Dr. Miranda Melcher: I can imagine. That is pretty significant scope on a number of different axes. So what kinds of changes maybe have you seen in the CICC given what's happening obviously in the ICC?
[00:12:44] Yasmina Gourchane: Yeah, so I think, as I mentioned, just working more closely with a kind of a broader scope of our members as well, engaging with some colleagues who haven't really worked so closely on ICC issues before. So just dealing with that versus some members who have been working closely on ICC cases for 10 or 15 years, so just juggling those two sides of things. I'd say also generally funding for international justice hasn't been the same recently as it has a number of years ago, even in terms of the staff at the CICC, we used to have a really large comprehensive staff across the globe, we had teams working on legal issues, teams working on communications, we had regional offices, so we were really able to do a lot. And now our secretariat is four people, which is a huge change. So just adjusting to this kind of change and still trying to follow along, provide services to our members, things like that, but just working on a smaller scale.
[00:13:44] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Speaking of providing services for members, this is obviously below your usual type of service provided, but all of us can't get all of this wonderful work done in civil society and improving access without food, without colleagues, without sort of getting to know people. So, for any listeners that might be in New York or visiting New York, is there a civil society friendly restaurant perhaps that you would recommend people check out?
[00:14:15] Yasmina Gourchane: I think we definitely do like to eat, drink and be merry at civil society and I think it's a good moment for colleagues to come together and sort of decompress and just spend time together. There's a number of restaurants I would say that are near the UN and you're very apt to run into somebody that you know there, whether it's a coffee shop like Penny Lane or getting Turkish food at Alibaba, for example, those are pretty popular places and I would say there are quite a few Irish pubs in the neighborhood of the UN that are often quite popular like, let's see... The Perfect Pint is one quite popular, so I'd say those are some places where civil society likes to gather in the area.
[00:14:58] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Wonderful. Well, thank you for those very important recommendations as well as the analysis of kind of trends in the ICC and CICC. Thank you Yasmina for sharing your story with us.
[00:15:14] Dr. Miranda Melcher: In our next episode, we'll delve more into the organization and the work that the CICC does with Yasmina.