By Thomas Verfuss in The Hague
Karim Khan QC, who took over in June as new International Criminal Court chief prosecutor, wants people from the countries concerned to be included in his teams that investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes.
Most ICC situation countries are in Africa. Khan said a team from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), based in Europe, cannot be like a “legal commando” parachuted in a situation country. He wants the OTP to do better by working “in partnership with people who know the country and know the region”. Local team members will “know the cultural sensitivities” and how to engage with people, he said.
He learnt the advantages of working this way when he was in charge of defence teams, he explained. The Prosecutor was lead defence counsel for Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto at the ICC and former president Charles Taylor of Liberia at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
The British lawyer was speaking during his first encounter with the press at the seat of the court in The Hague.
Khan also wants to improve the internal functioning of his office. Last year an Independent Expert Review concluded that it had a problem of work culture, bullying, and sexual intimidation. He pledged to make sure that the work culture at the OTP meets the “highest ethical and moral standards”.
The OTP has been criticised for the acquittal of high-level suspects after years of procedure, such as former president Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast and former vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba of the Central African Republic. Khan intends to improve quality control and ensure the OTP verifies at the early stages that there is sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction when the case is brought before the judges for trial. This means case files should show that there is “a reasonable chance of conviction” even before an arrest warrant is requested from the pre-trial chamber.
The Prosecutor wants a better communication strategy to enable the OTP’s work to be better understood worldwide. He plans to appoint a press spokesperson and get his office to use social media more.
Human rights organisations have criticised Khan for “deprioritising” the prosecution of torture allegations against American servicemen in the Afghanistan situation during his first months in office.
Instead, he wants to focus on the atrocities committed by Islamic militants. He denied in front of the Hague press corps that he has bowed to pressure from powerful US. “I am not basing decisions on timidity,” he insisted.
He explained that he is guided by the gravity of the crimes, and also complained about resource constraints: “The budget is not in proportion with responsibilities.” The ICC budget has been around 150 million euros in the past years. Given the number of investigations and prosecutions it undertakes, that is little compared to other international tribunals and investigations. Khan cited the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where he had worked, and the UN investigation into crimes of ISIS Islamic militants in Iraq, which he had led.