International Criminal Court (ICC) Judges
Ms. Tomoko Akane
On February 2nd, 2018, the International School Network interviewed Ms. Tomoko Akane, the current Ambassador for International Judicial Cooperation and Public Prosecutor of Supreme Public Prosecutors Office of Japan and soon to be judge for the International Criminal Court.
When asked about her childhood, Ms. Akane described herself to have been an “ordinary girl”. She lived in a rural area of Nagoya so she often played outside. When inside she entertained herself with her dogs or played card games. In middle school she joined the soft tennis club, and enjoyed much of her free time among nature, catching fish and tadpoles. In terms of her studies, Ms. Akane explained to us that she enjoyed mathematics, science, and reading. She was very much intrigued in chemistry experiments, and admired scientists such as Marie Curie and her husband. In high school she thought of her future profession to be a medical doctor and wished to pursue her studies in chemistry. She said that her passion was strongly influenced by the medical condition of her father at the time, who was going through cancer but now has fully recovered.
Six new judges sworn in today at the seat of the International Criminal Court
Today, 9 March 2018, six new judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) were sworn in at a ceremony held at the seat of the Court in The Hague (Netherlands). Judges Luz del Carmen Ibañez Carranza (Peru), Solomy Balungi Bossa (Uganda), Tomoko Akane (Japan), Reine Alapini-Gansou (Benin), Kimberly Prost (Canada) and Rosario Salvatore Aitala (Italy) were elected for nine-year terms during the sixteenth session of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Rome Statute in December 2017.
The judges made a solemn undertaking in open court before the President of the ASP, H.E. Mr O-Gon Kwon, stating: "I solemnly undertake that I will perform my duties and exercise my powers as a judge of the International Criminal Court honourably, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously, and that I will respect the confidentiality of investigations and prosecutions and the secrecy of deliberations".
ASP President H.E. Mr O-Gon Kwon welcomed the new judges to the Court: "Delivering international justice is no easy task; the victims of the most serious international crimes look to these judges to administer justice in situations that have deeply affected their lives and their communities. The accused deserve to have trials conducted in a fair, effective and impartial manner. The credibility and legitimacy of the Court will, to a great extent, be reflected in your ability to be fair and impartial judges and your judgements."
ICC President Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi stated: "Our six new colleagues join the Court at a very challenging time. In the last years, judges have played a leading role in efforts to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of proceedings and the quality of justice that is delivered. I am confident that such efforts will continue and be enriched by the new ideas and experience of our new colleagues that join the Court today."
Also attending the ceremony were the judges of the International Criminal Court, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, ICC Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart, ICC Registrar Herman von Hebel, ASP Vice-President H.E. Ambassador Momar Diop, as well as the President and Vice-Presidents of the International Criminal Court Bar Association, Mr Karim Khan, Mr Chief Charles Taku and Mr Jens Dieckmann, together with a large number of diplomats and other high-ranking guests, representatives of other international organisations in The Hague and members of the civil society.
The International Criminal Court has a bench of 18 judges who are nationals of States Parties to the Rome Statute. Judges are chosen from among persons of high moral character, impartiality and integrity who possess the qualifications required in their respective countries for appointment to the highest judicial offices. The election of the judges takes into account the need for the representation of the principal legal systems of the world, a fair representation of men and women, and equitable geographical distribution.
Yet Ms. Akane later realized that she wished to pursue a different career path. As she became an adult, she became aware that there are various types of evils in society that must be overcome, including wars, crimes, and discrimination of races, ethnic groups, and genders. This is why she chose to study law and entered Tokyo University. However, at first she lacked enthusiasm to study law and wished for broader opportunities, but there were limited positions for females during this time. Yet as Ms. Akane worked hard to acquire qualifications in law, she gradually became interested in law. Ms. Akane explained that studying law, which was her original second choice, turned out to be her best decision.
Ms. Akane decided to work in the public sector because she saw that the private sector had limited opportunities for females. After she took exams and interviews in private firms and organizations, she found that they did not satisfy her needs. Since she passed her BA examination during her university days, which was at the time considered as one of the most difficult exams, she decided to become a public prosecutor. Out of the choices of being a judge, lawyer, and public prosecutor, she chose the latter because she was interested in dealing with criminal cases. She wanted to bring justice to perpetrators and victims; a job that belonged to the Ministry of Justice.
Ms. Tomoko Akane explained to us that she does not recall any major difficulties in particular during her work life. She is grateful that she has always been supported by her colleagues, superiors, and mentors. Although she did have to work hard for long hours, sometimes even on during the weekends or holidays, she did not consider it as being arduous because she was young and it was work that she enjoyed. Ms. Akane explained that she feels fortunate to have not felt a burden in her work for being a female. Yet she shared with us an anecdote about how at the beginning of her career, she was occasionally mistaken to be the assistant instead of the prosecutor by suspects because she was a young female. It was very rare that a young female was a prosecutor at the time.
Ms. Akane also explained to us her experiences in obtaining a driver’s license after becoming a public prosecutor. She explained that it became necessary for her to drive when she worked at a local city, as she worked until the middle of the night.
Ms. Tomoko Akane worked at the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI) and served as the director for one year and a half after 2012. UNAFEI is a part of the Ministry of Justice, so she explained to us that it was natural for her to be posted there in the rotation of posts for public prosecutors. Since Ms. Akane studied in the United States for two years where she obtained her Masters degree for the Science of Criminal Justice, she was very much interested in working at UNAFEI. She started working in UNAFEI first as a professor in 1996, and after other posts she eventually became the deputy director and then the director of the organization.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) was founded in 2002. Ms. Akane explained that she did not know of the existence of the ICC for a long time, until her acquaintance from the Ministry of Justice in 2009 became a judge in the ICC. Yet it was in 2012 when Ms. Akane became interested in the ICC in relation to her career. When the prosecutor of the ICC visited Japan, Ms. Akane had an opportunity to meet her at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office where she worked. Ms. Akane was introduced to the ICC and its significance.
Ms. Akane was nominated as a candidate for the election for judges of the ICC in 2016 by the government of Japan. She expressed that she was very surprised as it was a sudden nomination, yet she viewed this rare work as a precious opportunity and new challenge, and decided to run in the election.
Especially since she was not planning on running in the election before her nomination, she had a lot of work and preparation to undergo after she was nominated. Firstly, she had to prepare various official documents, such as her curriculum vitae and statements. Ms. Akane explained that this was a very strong opportunity for her to recall her career as a public prosecutor, and her times as the director of UNAFEI. Furthermore, she had to prepare for an official interview that took place in the Hauge, Netherlands, conducted by the Advisory Committee on Nomination of Judges (CAN). She explained to us that this interview assessed her work experience and English ability. Additionally, we were surprised to hear that Ms. Akane had to attend a two-hour long panel discussion held by the Coalition for the ICC (CICC), a coalition of NGOs supporting the activities of the ICC, who was curious to examine the candidates. This panel discussion aired in countries across the globe. Ms. Akane also read various documents such as the Rome Statute, and studied the judgments made by the ICC during the previous year. Some of these judgments consisted of 600 pages in English!
Ms. Akane commented that this election had been a tough but essential experience in which she called back her memory of her prosecutor days and her priorities in her career. She rethought about why she wanted to be elected and what her resolutions would be. She also studied English again to perfect her professional discussion skills on legal matters.
The election for the judge for the ICC was held in New York from December 4th to 6th. Ms. Akane was elected during the first round. She shared with us that her immediate reaction was delight and relief. However, by the end of the election, her feelings changed as she felt sorry for the candidates who were not elected. Only 6 out of 12 were selected to be judges, although Ms. Akane believes that every candidate was qualified. Ms. Akane felt a strong sense or responsibility in becoming a judge of the ICC, as she must deal with serious international crimes. Therefore, Ms. Akane described her reaction towards the results of her election as being a mixed feeling.
According to Ms. Akane, men and women are equally treated in the ICC. The current top three posts in the ICC are occupied by women, yet this is due to a rotation and fair election. Ms. Akane is glad that the ICC gives a chance to everybody in becoming the president and vice president. She hopes that more Japanese women can occupy higher positions in sectors both in and outside Japan.
The judges of the ICC come from various countries. Because each judge comes from a different background, the work environment is very international. Ms. Akane explained that she would need time to assimilate in the international setting. She believes that it is vital that everyone respects the cultures and traditions of all countries for cooperation and support. Through such mindset, Ms. Akane believes that when performing her duty as a judge and forming opinions, she can be fair and impartial.
Ms. Akane views that the work itself that she would be undergoing in the ICC would not be stressful, as it is an occupation that she enjoys and feels passionate about. She hopes that in her new working environment in the Hague, she can enjoy the outdoors. Having visited the Hague four times already, Ms. Akane explained that she especially enjoys the forests, flowers, and museums of the beautiful city. When she has time, she hopes to visit many places and go jogging outside.
The International School Network first met Ms. Akane in 2014 when she served as the director of UNAFEI. Ms. Akane explained to us that she felt impressed by our activeness and curiosity in doing new things. She believes it is important for the youth to actively think, move forwards, and challenge themselves. She feels proud that Japanese girls are interested in participating in international events, having a role as Japanese representatives. She believes that such activeness can bridge the gap between Japan and the international world.
As an advice for students, she hopes young people can be “ambitious”. She commented that even if you face a struggle, if you never give up and stay hard-working, you can seek a way to overcome them. Even If you cannot achieve a goal one way, you can find new ways (including new people) to achieve them and bring yourself to the next level. Ms. Akane explained that despite the hindrances that women faced at the time, she feels fortunate and grateful to have people who helped her. Yet at the same time, she believes that she was helped because she had strong ambitions. Especially now that the world is going through a transitional era in many respects that comes with various issues such as rapid globalization, global warming, and aging societies, Ms. Akane hopes that students can actively learn and think about how to be the driving force for creating a bright future.
As a message towards ambassadors and representatives of international organizations, Ms. Akane shared to us that she is confident that young Japanese people will contribute to the development, prosperity and stability of the world. She believes that we can count on the vision, creativity, and energy of youth. She commented, “Please encourage and inspire them to keep up their efforts for the future”.
Although she will never discard her identity as a Japanese and her Japanese values and ways of thinking, Ms. Akane explained to us that when undergoing her duty in international crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC, she must switch her mindset from domestic to international. Ms. Akane commented that she can easily change her mindset in work because she has a mission to bring justice to perpetrators and victims. She would feel bad for the people affected by crimes no matter their nationality, and can therefore stay fair in her professional conscience.
Views on Education
Ms. Akane shared with us that she has seen children in developing countries being very eager to learn despite their limited resources. However, she has noticed that some children in Japan have a negative attitude towards school and learning. She emphasized that the eagerness towards learning should be shared, and that the value of education being a privilege should be felt by all students.
Madoka Nishina Keio University Faculty of Economics (PEARL)
Karen Nishina Saint Maur International School in Yokohama
Yurika Sumi Soshin Zogakkou High School