Posted by: gisellediego | February 27, 2012

ICLS, in the beginning

International Criminal Law is often considered a young area of law. It is when you compare it to public international law or domestic legal traditions. This area of law has developed rapidly in the last 60 years, the fact that we now have an international court with legal competence to try individuals for international crimes, is, in my mind, a miracle of diplomacy. As interested as I am in this area of law I don’t pretend to think that it is without its deficiencies, which is why I have tried to gain experience in as many different spheres under the ICL umbrella. I was drawn to this internship at ICLS in The Hague for this reason.

This city is undeniably the seat of international law and it is something the Dutch are proud of. Jeremy and I have been very lucky to have a view from our office balcony that reminds us of this city’s history:

View of the Peace Palace from our office balcony.

I have had experience in the past interning in The Hague within the court system, both for prosecution and defence, but I was looking forward to working alongside the system for an NGO.  The ICL landscape is littered with NGOs, inter-governmental organisations and coalitions. These organisation play an important role, whether it be through trial monitoring such as the OSJI project, or women’s rights advocacy within the ICC system such as Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. These organisations make up an essential part of international criminal justice.

It is in this landscape that ICLS occupies a unique and important place. It is a small NGO set up by lawyers with extensive experience in international criminal law, humanitarian law and human rights law. The international criminal justice system is set up to deal with a small number of high-level accused, or borrowing from the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, “persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law.” The commission of an international crime such as genocide, involves many people, and these perpetrators need to be dealt with in the most appropriate legal forum. International criminal law was created to work in concert with domestic criminal justice systems. In fact, the ICC’s jurisdiction is only triggered where a country, such as Kenya for example, are unwilling or unable to try the crimes. So in theory, the bulk of criminal prosecutions for international crimes should be taking place in criminal jurisdictions. States Parties to the Rome Statute are obligated to introduce legislation enabling tem to prosecute these crimes.

The founders of ICLS recognised that the domestic justice system in the future will be the engine room of international criminal law. In order to bring to justice perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, there is a need for specialised expertise in prosecuting these crimes that domestic justice systems may not have. ICLS was created to fill this gap. The organisation works at the domestic level to deliver training, advice and support to its clients. The board of ICLS is made up of some of the most experiences practitioners in the field across all international courts and hybrid courts in this area of law.

In my own studies I am interested in the intersection between international development, post-conflict societies and international criminal justice, the work that ICLS does has allowed me to work directly at this intersection. Jeremy and I started our internship at the beginning of December. We were given our introduction to the organisation by Ken Roberts, one of the founders of ICLS. Ken has extensive experience in this area of law, he is currently the Deputy Registrar of the ICTY and was also a senior legal officer in Chambers at the ICTY. Gaining an insight to this world from someone as experienced as Ken has been a real eye opener. He believes firmly in the goals of ICLS and international criminal justice but also gives a frank account of the deficiencies of the system. Having the opportunity to meet with Ken throughout the duration of our internship has been thought provoking and discussions we’ve had with him have given a great context to the work we are doing.

Our executive director Cecilia has many years experience in the NGO sector in The Hague, before coming to ICLS she worked for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. She is based in Stockholm and we worked with her, for the most part, via skype and email. Cecilia visits The Hague often and we had the opportunity to work with her in the office as well. In addition to providing support and guidance in our work, Cecilia has really encouraged us to enrich our internship experience by attending trials at the courts, and various conferences and seminars given in The Hague.

During our time at ICLS Jeremy and I worked on two projects and as of a few weeks ago we began working on a 3rd project which is still the negotiations phases and very exciting. I will go into more detail about these projects in posts soon to follow.

For more information on:


Visit the website or read Jeremy Shelley’s posts:

OSJI’s trial monitoring activities:

Visit their websites on each of the trials taking place at the ICC:

Katanga trial-

Bemba trial-

Lubanga trial-

Kenyan situation-

The websites provide very accessible summaries of  court proceedings, including daily summaries when court is in session, an overview of the conflict, the charges, trial background and commentary. Just over a month ago the Pre Trial Chamber at the ICC just confirmed the charges against 4 people in relation to the post election violence in Kenya.

Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice:

They produce Gender Report Cards each year as well as other background papers, articles, Amicus Briefs and links to other resources.

Coalition for the International Criminal Court:

The CICC publish bimonthly bulletins that give a good digest as to the goings on of the courts. They also have an active twitter feed that is regularly updated.

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