ICC (International Criminal Court )
On Friday, August 23rd, 2019, the International School Network visited the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands. When we arrived at the ICC, Judge (Ms.) Akane Tomoko met us at the entrance and took us inside through strict security. Firstly, we listened to a presentation about the ICC and then went on a tour of the building. We were able to see the hearing room from the visitors' view.
The International Criminal Court was established 16 years ago. Its location in the Hague symbolizes peace and the center of justice. As an international judicial institution, elections of the judges take into account diverse cultures, and this year, they will elect a new prosecutor.
The building of the ICC is very modern and protected by a high-security system. Photos are prohibited indoors, and the whole building is fireproof and surrounded by high walls and water. We visited the hearing room from the other side of a bulletproof and fireproof glass wall. The judges' seats are equipped with computers so they can all look through evidence and related documents during the trial.
The ICC is working to investigate countries that are: in conflict, recovering, and politically unstable. The ICC tackles crimes that are widespread, against and attacking humanity, and a genocide. It is worth noting the difference between the ICC and the International Court of Justice (ICJ)- The ICC punishes people, while the ICJ settles arguments between countries.
There are about 4 to 5 trials per year. Trials at the ICC takes months and even years. Cases of the ICC can take up to 7 to 9 years because of its scope- each has about 5000 victims. Many challenges come with such a large scale investigation, including case selection. The ICC aspires to prevent as many crimes as possible, so they must choose incidents that are especially widespread and urgent. Also, trials can only be made against a physical person and not an organization. It is, therefore, a complicated matter when dealing with organized crimes.
Furthermore, the process is vast and disruptive to the lives of many people. There are challenges in protecting witnesses and catching people, especially because the ICC does not go to the crime scenes. It is costly and dangerous to fly victims and witnesses to the Hague, but also essential to reduce the reliance on oral testimony. There must be a balance when choosing incidents that are effectively focused and representative so that trials can be made as quickly and objectively as possible.
Investigations can be started or authorized by the state party, the UN Security Council, or jurisdiction, which is then checked by the Pre-Trial Chamber. However, the ICC does not operate under universal jurisdiction. There are many boxes to be ticked before the ICC can work on a case. For example, Syria is not part of the court; hence there must be complicated referrals to work on related investigations in the country. Another example of a filed but not yet implemented investigation includes the displaced people of Myanmar in Bangladesh. Because it is not legal to investigate in Myanmar, the ICC would need to find new ways to tackle the problem. Examples of other situations include that of Afghanistan (a long preliminary investigation), an arrest warrant in Sudan, and the prosecution of a president from Kenya, who was not found guilty due to a lack of evidence. Nevertheless, each topic is very controversial due to its many challenges, including resource administration and cooperation difficulties.
We interviewed Ms. Akane Tomoko at her office and then had lunch together at the cafeteria of the ICC.
Ms. Akane Tomoko explained to us her role at the ICC as one of the 18 judges. In her Division, Pre-Trial Chamber II, there are three judges: Ms. Tomoko Akane and two judges from Italy and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ms. Akane notes that her work is very challenging, including the aspect of language; Discussions are in English, but there are many documents written in French, which she has to translate.
They are working on a Central African case now in which two defendants from Central Africa are detained in the detention in the Hague. They are dealing with the situation in the pre-trials to decide if the charges are confirmed.
She demonstrated that in brief, the process of the pre-trial is made by confirming the situation and then investigating the suspect-targeted case, by teams of three judges from each chamber along with legal officers from various backgrounds. After the confirmation hearing, six judges undergo the trial. The whole process is very confidential until the decision is made.
Ms. Akane explained to us about her life working as a judge at the ICC. The ICC has no fixed work times, although usually, office hours are from 8 to 5:30. Ms. Akane noted that this depends heavily on the workload at the given time. The judges have to be alert 24 hours a day and even on holidays. The ICC has very few Japanese staff, 12~14, of which some are temporary. Ms. Akane noted that she misses Japan and Japanese food. Not only is it hard to find Japanese cuisine like udon in the Hague, but she also stated that it is even hard to find rice. She misses Japanese food, including natto, tofu, miso, soba, and especially udon.
Ms. Tomoko Akane expressed her wishes of welcoming young Japanese people to visit the ICC. She wishes that more Japanese people can actively join and be curious about international settings. She aspires Japanese people not to be afraid to ask questions and to step outside of the Japanese environment.
(by Madoka & Karen Nishina)