For almost a quarter of a century, Bill Pace has been the convenor of the civil society Coalition for an International Criminal Court (CICC). It is hard to imagine the ICC and the ASP, the annual gathering of the now 122 member states, without the American activist – but the man who has been the face of CICC has announced that he will leave his position as convenor.
Founded in 1995, the CICC has enabled reputable human rights organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Redress and the Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme to work together striving for an independent, impartial, fair and efficient international court to deal with the worst crimes that shock the conscience of humankind.
I first met Bill in the 1990s at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. The ICTY was the first international court for war crimes set up since the international military tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo after the Second World War. The ICTY was established through a UN Security Council resolution — which could be done faster than negotiating a treaty — to respond to the atrocities in the Balkans.
The temporary (“ad hoc”) ICTY was a kind of laboratory to practice prosecuting international crimes before an international court: while tackling the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, it also served to learn from this experience while preparing and building an international criminal court with (potentially) worldwide jurisdiction on a sound treaty basis. I often met Bill and representatives of the CICC’s member organisations like Amnesty at the ICTY where they came to observe trial procedures (“Does the suspect get a fair trial?”) and talk to the court’s principals. And to share their insights in the ongoing diplomatic negotiating process with journalists.
Years of talks and negotiations culminated in the Rome conference in 1998. For the first time, non-governmental organisations played a key role at a UN conference to negotiate an international treaty – work normally done only by diplomats. Bill Pace and his CICC’s member organisations, helped by their international legal expertise and diplomatic skills, played a key role in trying to lay the foundations of a truly independent ICC — as opposed to one controlled more or less by the Security Council, something which especially some powerful countries would have preferred.
Bill Pace and his CICC associates, with their detailed knowledge and access to key players in the negotiating process and the confidential information they would sometimes share, played a crucial role in informing journalists and helping them to understand what finally led to the adoption of the Rome Statute in July 1998.
“After Rome”, Bill and the CICC campaigned for the necessary 60 ratifications for the Rome Statute to enter into force, an objective that was achieved in 2002. The key role of the CICC was recognized by the states, for example, through the role that was given to Bill and the CICC during the key ceremonies in 2003, when the first elected judges and prosecutor of the ICC took up their work.
Bill and the CICC have been critical observers of the ICC over the years, sharing critical analysis of the ICC work with journalists – providing quotes and off-the-record briefings, valuable not also because of their expertise, but also because of benefiting from the privileged access they had to ‘their baby’ given the role they played in the establishment of the ICC and their friendship with key actors.
“Constructive criticism” seemed to be the constant motto: analyzing and denouncing to a certain extent, yes, but not crossing the line to a point where the criticism would become “destructive” – i.e. “abusable” by the countless powerful enemies of the ICC outside the system.
During his last ASP as CICC convenor, Bill was outspoken about the “triumphs, disappointments and prospects from a civil society perspective, 20 years after the adoption of the Rome Statute. The “singular triumph” he highlighted first was that an ICC dominated by the UN Security Council and the veto powers could be avoided. Once states have joined the Rome Statute system, they are equal.
In Rome, a court with independent judges and an independent prosecutor who can initiate investigations “proprio motu” (on his own initiative) was created, with no immunity for heads of state, victims participation and reparation as well as due attention for gender issues. “At this time in 2018, there could not even be agreement on calling such a plenipotentiaries conference.”
Pace also called it “fairly unique” that the ICC could at least be partly shielded from the usual horse-trading during UN elections by setting up an advisory committee of judicial experts to make sure that candidates for the positions of judges met the necessary professional requirements.
Last but not least, it was a triumph for Bill when NGOs in Africa “stayed strong” and committed to the ICC when the court came under attack as a supposedly “neo-colonial” institution.
The disappointments then form a “longer list”. After the entry into force of the Rome Statute, his own country, the US, “launched a war to kill the baby in the cradle”. At the instigation of National Security Advisor John Bolton, the US pressurised small countries to promise not to fulfill their cooperation obligations towards the ICC in order to shield US citizen from prosecution in The Hague. Bolton’s more recent threats to arrest ICC judges or prosecutors when they travel to the US are an “unprecedented threat”.
Pace was disappointed by the first group of judges elected in 2003, who immediately asked for more money and for a prosecutor to be appointed quickly in order for them to be called to work and earn full pay soon.
The judges’ pay issue still resounds today, as a group of judges, led by ICC president Chile Eboe-Osuji, have sued their own court to earn more than the 15,000 euros per month tax-free plus benefits they already receive. The procedure before an International Labour Organisation tribunal in Geneva has harmed the public image of the court, already affected by the recent high-profile acquittals of Jean-Pierre Bemba and Laurent Gbagbo.
There have been few amendments to the Rome Statute, all adopted at a “review conference” in Kampala in 2010, though the system may need further improvements. According to Pace, the ASP does not do its oversight job properly. He has criticised proposals to shorten the annual ASP sessions to five days.
The first prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo’s strategy “failed in a whole range of degrees”, as in several cases his office failed to produce the evidence necessary for a conviction or even a confirmation of charges. And the failure to investigate both sides in a conflict in some countries “has not worked”, Pace says.
After all these years as CICC convenor, he concludes that a civil society dream, “the post-cold-war effort to prevent atrocity crimes, has been completely unsuccessful”.