International Justice Deserves Better

By: Nelson Camilo Sánchez*


This past July 17th was the “World Day for International Justice.” This date, which alludes to the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998, commemorates the struggle against impunity for severe human rights violations.

Using the hashtag #JusticeMatters, activists from different regions and countries celebrated the date and asked for greater attention, support, and financing of the international Criminal Court and its Office of the Prosecutor. In an interesting request, ambassadors from sixteen countries (in large part from the global North, but with support from some global South countries like Costa Rica and Botswana) made a public statement in which they said “the International Criminal Court Deserves Better.”

I agree with the demand, but I think it stops a bit short. In my opinion, all international courts, especially those that deal with human rights, deserve better. All of them deserve more political support, more collaboration from states, greater outreach to the societies of the world, and of course, more resources to guarantee their efficacy and independence.

For example, regarding budgets—which was one of the issues highlighted in this campaign—all the Courts are in deficit, and in some cases unfortunate, like the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It behooves us to remember that the Court’s budget should come from the dues of its member-states. According to official reports, the International Criminal Court’s budget for this year will be €130 million (about USD$140 million), divided among its different institutions as shown in Graph 1. This budget represents an increase of 7% from the previous year and consolidates two years of increases. However, experts note that it continues to be insufficient.

Despite being in deficit, the ICC’s budget is greater than what human rights courts receive. It is almost double of what the European Court of Human Rights received for 2015 (€69,076,300 or USD$74,854,532); almost thirteen times (based on 2014 data) the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ budget (USD$9 million, without counting the USD$5.6 million of the African Commission); and more than twenty times the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ budget, which for 2014 was USD$4,737,043.30 (not including the $9.4 million received by the Inter-American Commission). Graph 2 shows the total 2014 budgets for the different human rights systems.

Courts also deserve more political backing in the implementation of their rulings. As I mentioned in an earlier post in this blog, in the past year the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor has had to face difficult situations due to the lack of cooperation it has received from some states and outright hostility of others. One cannot ignore the fact highlighted by the ambassadors in their declaration: twelve arrest warrants issued by the ICC have still not been executed. Likewise, one cannot forget the recent controversy regarding the case of Omar Hassan al-Bashir in South Africa, in which the South African government allowed the head of state to flee the country although the Constitutional Court of South Africa ordered its government to implement the arrest ordered by the ICC.

Regional human rights courts face similar obstacles every day in implementing their decisions. For example, far from being unique to the European system, is the tense relationship between the Strasbourg Court and Russia. Its American counterpart, the Inter-American Court, has faced similar challenges with countries like the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.

Issues regarding budgets and implementation of ruling are only two examples of the diverse challenges that show that international justice deserves better. It would be worthwhile for the ambassadors that signed this important letter to serve as spokespeople of this situation and involve their counterparts from other countries in order to take measures that can address these limitations. Moreover, I hope they will broaden their agenda beyond the ICC. They already managed to get the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) to symbolically join their cause. Perhaps this they can convince him to change from symbolic to material support so that he can invest efforts in his own human rights system.


*Nelson Camilo Sánchez is a researcher at the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia).

Featured Photo: Roel Wijnants