In this episode, we continue our conversation with Yasmina Gourchane, Advocacy Officer at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. We go behind the scenes into the broader work of the organization and it's relationship with civil society.
For more on the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, go to: https://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/
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Episode 6 - Interview with Yasmina Gourchane - Coalition for the International Criminal Court - Part 2
[00:00:00] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Hello and welcome to Just Access! Too many individuals and groups around the world today are denied access to justice. Such access is vital for making human rights effective and securing human dignity, especially for those in situations of vulnerability. For example, women, children, minorities, migrants, or detainees.
[00:00:24] In this podcast series, we speak to academics, international legal experts and human rights advocates about hot topics and international law. We aim to expose and highlight situations of structural injustice and creatively explore possible solutions to such issues aiming to help protect and enforce the rights contained in international treaties.
[00:00:44] My name is Dr. Miranda Melcher and I'm a Senior legal Fellow at Just Access. In this episode, I continue my conversation with the Yasmina Gourchane about her work as an Advocacy Officer at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Our discussion in this episode builds on our conversation in the previous episode.
[00:01:03] In this one, we go inside the CICC organization and learn more about how it works, as well as getting Yasmina's perspective on access to justice in international law more broadly.
[00:01:15] I'd love to now kind of go into a bit more depth about the work of the CICC, given that you've given us such a wonderful sort of overview and what you work on, which is so varied, but in some senses I almost wonder that that has to create some challenges in and of itself, just having so many different things to keep track of and follow. So how does that work within the CICC? How does an agenda get decided on, or the best use of resources? How do you decide what to emphasize?
[00:01:54] Yasmina Gourchane: Certainly! I would say we have a set of general guiding principles that we're agreed upon when the coalition was founded. They've been updated since, but continue to guide our work. Some of those general principles include promoting universality of the Rome Statute or working towards encouraging political support and cooperation with the Court, so more general themes that we and our members work on. Also, when new organizations join the coalition, they agree to abide by a set of principles or a policy that we have in which they agree to promote the ratification and implementation of the statute, uphold the integrity of their own statute and work to ensure that the ICC is as fair, effective, and independent as possible.
[00:02:37] Our members go about those things in different ways, but from our side we're really guided by what our members want and need. We do have a position of neutrality at the coalition in which we don't take positions on any ongoing cases or situations. We don't take any positions on candidates for election, in terms of ICP and ASP officials.
[00:02:59] But really, again we're sort of guided by what our members want and we're constantly in touch with our members so we can sort of take the pulse of our membership and say like, okay, a lot of people are talking about this one issue, what are we going to do about it? How can we facilitate this discussion?
[00:03:14] Or, you know, whatever's going on at the ICC or what's a topical issue, what's relevant for us and our membership? For example, earlier this year the ICC prosecutor sent out a note verbale to governments essentially asking for voluntary contributions and got us personnel to help advance the work of the office of the prosecutor. And this is something that a lot of our members were talking about. These resources were to go generally to the office of the prosecutor (OTP), but the announcement was made in conjunction with the opening of the investigation in Ukraine, so there was a lot of questions about where is this money going, how is it gonna advance the work of the OTP? So we convened a meeting of our members and out of that meeting we came up with a set of principles to kind of guide the work of the coalition as we pursue this issue on budget and on resources. And we continue to use those principles now in our advocacy.
[00:04:10] So really just listening to what our members want and what is relevant for the broadest set of our members. We try and speak on behalf of the coalition when it's representative really of our wider membership. So I'd say we really try and make sure that our work is aligned with the work of our members.
[00:04:27] Dr. Miranda Melcher: That makes sense and definitely also presents some challenges: there's a lot of different numbers, staying neutral with the range of cases, I imagine can be quite challenging, and as you've just mentioned, there's also the aspect of the public, just the general public. It's not like what the ICC does is secret. That's part of the whole accountability thing. So how does the CICC balance that? How do you balance building relationships with institutions to make sure that civil society is represented, but also then if things are public and managing that, you know, how do you balance between kind of holding institutions accountable but also keeping that conversation and dialogue going with them at the same time?
[00:05:10] Yasmina Gourchane: I think that after almost 30 years of this coalition we've gotten quite good at convening and ensuring that conversations are taking place and we're able to really take into account the varying views of our members. We have a number of opportunities throughout the year in which we're able to convene a lot of members in person and this happens, for example, towards the end of the year, there's a large conference that takes place - the assembly of state party session, and that really brings together court officials, state officials and civil society. And we usually have a pretty good showing of civil society in non pandemic times, we're hoping to get back there quite soon.
[00:05:48] And that really gives us an opportunity to just have conversations with our members and if there's a sort of a sticking point for one group and we really wanna move forward, being able to have conversations with them about what their reservations are, how we can kind of adjust, how we're taking this forward in order to accommodate their concerns, things like that.
[00:06:07] It's pretty clear that we do have this position of neutrality and I don't think that's really a question, so we don't really run into too many issues there, you know , our members aren't necessarily getting angry with us for not taking a position on a specific investigation. We really provide the space for our members if they choose to have a position on a certain case or on a candidate we really provide the space for them to take over in that way.
[00:06:32] Dr. Miranda Melcher: And does the CICC pursue any long term goals? А lot of what you've talked about is kind of very much responsive to what members do, some of which I imagine must be long term. So what do some of those long term things look like?
[00:06:46] Yasmina Gourchane: Absolutely! I think, as you said, a lot of our work is kind of topical and current, but at the same time, there's this underlying desire towards improving the ICC or improving the system and working towards long term sustainable change. I think one of the best examples of this is election of ICC and ASP officials. There's constantly elections that are going on and around each election process, for example whether it's judges or the prosecutor or other officials, we follow quite closely each process, you know, monitoring it to make sure that it is as transparent and fair as possible, that the most highly qualified individuals are being elected.
[00:07:30] But at the same time we are still working on a number of processes that seek to improve the way in which officials are elected at the ICC, whether that's the establishment of a permanent vetting mechanism for high level officials at the Court, or promoting stronger national nomination procedures so the candidates that come before the Court are quite high quality before the elections even take place. So we sort of work on a kind of smaller scale when these things are happening, following them, but then behind the scenes we are also working quite closely to just make the ICC a stronger institution.
[00:08:07] We also see this in terms of budget and resources, as I mentioned earlier, the prosecutor had made a call earlier this year for additional resources, so that's, I think, tied into a kind of a longer discussion, the way in which they provide the budget for the Court, and making sure that the Court has sufficient resources, one that matches its workload, so that the Court can really live up to the expectations that are placed on it not only by states but also by victims and affected communities.
[00:08:34] So we're, as the Court puts out its budget, making sure that governments are aware of the challenges and the risks that are at play if the Court doesn't have a sufficient budget. But then also at the same time having a conversation about what the court needs long term in order to really do its work. How can we make the budget more sustainable, so the prosecutor doesn't really have to ask for additional resources when he needs it and, you know, making sure that by putting sufficient resources in the regular budget you're upholding both the prosecutorial and the judicial independence and just upholding the legitimacy of the institution.
[00:09:11] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Yeah, some very important points and I think really effective reminder that we might not think that things like budgeting and resources are the sort of sexy side of the work but they're absolutely fundamental. So I'm really glad that you guys obviously are such experts in keeping an eye on that, making it happen and raising it to our audience as well.
[00:09:32] But thinking kind of of this bigger picture, when you think of the greatest risks for access to justice when we talk in this realm of the ICC and international law, when I ask this question to my colleagues at Just Access we had a whole range of possible options of what this could possibly be, but we wanted to ask you, the expert at the CICC, what you think in terms of greatest barriers to access to justice.
[00:09:56] Yasmina Gourchane: Well, unfortunately, I agree. I think there are a lot of risks at play, whether, you know, universality of the statute - the ICC is not a universal institution, it has 123 states parties, so that's one barrier to justice. I'd say the kind of insufficient, or the lack of civic space for NGOs to operate or even human rights defenders who face threats and attacks every single day. I think the fact that the ICC, again, is a relatively young institution. I'd say it takes its time, you know, a lot of these cases drag on for many, many years and then making sure that you're really able to provide justice to those who need it the most, that kind of comes into question when these cases go on for 10, 15 years, something like that. I'd say as I mentioned before, you know, whether or not the Court has sustained funding, whether it's able to really do its work. Making sure that it has access to victims and effective communities and is really able to do effective outreach and the situations in which it operates is definitely a risk that we see. So I think there's a lot of barriers to justice.
[00:11:04] Dr. Miranda Melcher: All right, so we weren't, you know, far off by coming up with a lot of different options, but thank you for your expert opinion. At the risk of perhaps overgeneralizing, as we come to the end of our time with you, do you have any sort of recommendations for ways we can fix these things? You know, not to quite phrase it this way, but I guess if you had a magic wand, you know, what might some of those fixes be?
[00:11:28] Yasmina Gourchane: Yeah, I think it's interesting working on the civil society side of things because I think we're just, we have to be eternal optimist in a lot of ways. You know, we have to continue to believe that things will get better and that there's potential for change and, you know, working towards these goals of whether it's a universal statute or, I think really, in an ideal world, the ICC wouldn't even exist because people wouldn't commit war crimes and genocide. But that's not the world in which we live, so we're gonna continue to work towards it.
[00:11:56] But, I think really civil society has a important role to play in addressing a lot of these risks, whether it's universality of the statute, making sure that civil society in a certain country is working with their government to promote this idea that they need to join the ICC and then when they're kind of on board making sure that legislation is aligned with that of the Rome statute. So I think, you know, it's definitely not an impossible goal and it's something that we and our members work towards every single day.
[00:12:27] And I think a lot of these issues too, maybe governments aren't always so aware of, whether it's threats to human rights defenders, that's something that we raise in many of our meetings and is a reality that many of our members and colleagues face every single day. So just flagging that and saying that, you know, it's not just these conversations that take place far away in the Hague, this is something that really affects the livelihood of a lot of people. So just raising those alarm bells and making sure that people are aware of the realities that people live in.
[00:12:57] And, on budget and resources, again, this is something that we're really trying to kind of drive home, saying that, if, you know, you're fighting over 2 or $3 million that you're gonna give the court or not give the court, what does that really mean? What does that 1 or 2-$3 million actually mean? It means that if the Court doesn't have it, then they're not able to go into a community and say this is what the ICC is, this is what we're trying to do, will you please come and cooperate with us. Or if you want to really have the trust of a local community that you're trying to work in, if the court doesn't have resources, they can't do that. And then again, you know, you kind of miss out on building trust within a community and really getting the kind of sign off from them. And I think that's really important - thinking about why does the ICC exist? It really exists to provide justice to victims of these really atrocious terrible crimes. So kind of bringing it back down to its core values and why it was really created, I think is really important and I guess, having people pay attention to these risks.
[00:14:00] Dr. Miranda Melcher: That makes a lot of sense. S taying then as my last question on the theme of optimism, as part of what's important about working in civil society, maybe you could share with us something that you are excited about or optimistic about for the CICC and international justice becoming more available?
[00:14:18] Yasmina Gourchane: Definitely! I think I'm very much a ICC nerd if you couldn't tell, and I love working on the ICC and I think I'm very lucky to work at the Coalition for the ICC, and really my favorite part about this job is being able to work with our members all across the globe and just seeing the incredible work that they're doing and providing a platform for them and making sure that the rest of the world can see the work that they're doing.
[00:14:43] And I think it's a very exciting time to be working on ICC issues and ICJ more broadly these days. I think there's a lot of attention on the ICC now that there's this ongoing investigation in Ukraine and just the fact that, you know, I can see the ICC prosecutor on CNN here in New York talking on TV, that's kind of crazy to me because not everyone really knows what the ICC is, so I think even sort of that name recognition around the globe and calling more attention to the work of the ICC and why it's important has been really exciting. And I think, you know, hopefully that also translates into providing more attention on the work of our members and the really important things that they're doing every single day and trying to work towards justice for really terrible crimes and providing a voice to victims and to affected communities. So I think again, it's a really exciting time and you know, I'm very excited to be part of it.
[00:15:38] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Well, thank you for giving all of us listeners a little bit of insight into the exciting work. Hopefully it helps us kind of follow along in a bit more of an informed way, maybe helps us be even more excited. So thank you very much for sharing your time and insights with us!
[00:15:52] Yasmina Gourchane: Thank you so much!
[00:15:55] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Thank you Yasmina for speaking with us on these episodes. Stay tuned for future Just Access interviews!