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PhD Defence: impact of the International Criminal Court at state level

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague was established in 2002. Its principal task is to institute proceedings against persons suspected of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. What progress has been made in the almost twenty years that the ICC has existed? PhD Candidate Marieke Wierda conducted research into the impact of the ICC in Afghanistan, Colombia, Libya and Uganda and defended her doctoral thesis on 9 January.

Why did you wish to research the impact of the ICC?

'In 1998, twenty years ago, the Statute of Rome on the International Criminal Court was adopted by 120 nations. The founders believed this to be a major breakthrough in the fight against impunity of perpetrators. But now, twenty years on, questions are increasingly being asked about the impact of the Criminal Court.  Up to now the ICC has concluded few cases in total, and only four people have been convicted.  One of them, the Congolese politician and businessman Jean-Pierre Bemba, was recently acquitted. My research, however, looks at the impact of the Criminal Court at state level. The countries included in the research were Afghanistan, Colombia, Libya and Uganda.'

What exactly did you investigate and how did you do this?

'My research aimed to measure the impact of the Criminal Court by using an assessment framework that consisted of four parts: systematic effects (impact on national legal systems); transformative effects (impact on peace negotiations); rectification effects (impact on victims) and demonstrative effects (impact on the perceptions of the local population). To substantiate the findings, the doctoral thesis used various sources, including legal documents, judgments of the Criminal Court, academic articles, policy documents of NGOs and think tanks, documents from the media and interviews with opinion leaders from the countries in question.’

What are the most important conclusions and recommendations from the research?

'The Criminal Court and the Statute of Rome have had a certain normative effect. The countries investigated have adjusted their legislation or have set up new, specialised bodies to try international crimes. In certain countries, proceedings have already been held such as in Colombia, Libya and Uganda. There has also been an impact on peace negotiations. The rights of victims have been recognised and perpetrators are to be tried in Colombia and Uganda. However, these positive effects are diminished by the lack of social impact i.e. an impact on the lives of victims (rectification effects). The perceptions of local populations about the ICC are often negative: the Criminal Court is by no means considered independent or impartial, or the population wants a different solution at local level. The impact of the ICC was also greatest in the country where the rule of law was best established: Colombia. The impact was much less in Afghanistan and Libya.'

What will be done with the research outcomes? Will these be used in practice?

'I hope that this research will be read in particular by policy makers who have dealings with the ICC. I myself am currently working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where the outcomes are certainly relevant because international criminal law is an important focus area for the Netherlands. The research calls for a more context-sensitive approach in the application of international criminal law and the norms of the Statute of Rome. This can be achieved in part through the adjustment of current practices and the policy of the ICC within the Statute of Rome. Certain fundamental issues most also be reconsidered. For instance, that other ways or models exist to advance the norms of the Statute of Rome. I hope that this doctoral thesis can make a contribution in that discussion.'

Supervisors Professor  L.J. van den Herik and Professor  C. Stahn on Marieke Wierda’s research

'Marieke Wierda is one the world’s leading experts on criminal accountability and transitional justice – she has a wealth of experience and first-hand insights into transition processes that are unparalleled. It was an honor that she joined us researcher at the Grotius Centre for  the NWO-funded project on Post-Conflict Justice and Local Ownership. Her PhD is a treasure of lived experiences and living memories. Her eye-opening analysis and her nuanced recommendations force us to re-think not only the complex impacts and effects of the International Criminal Court in situation countries, but the broader interplay between justice, peace and development agents and their constituencies more generally.'

Text: Floris van den Driesche
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