African Civil Society Shines at the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

29th June 2010 By: ISS, Institute for Security Studies

Civil society has become a key driver behind global efforts to end impunity for grave international crimes. African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are no exception, having recently spearheaded several well-known initiatives (including strategic litigation) that have resulted in important victories for victims of these serious international crimes.


This important role was recognised by the United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon during the opening of the 8th Assembly of the States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) held in November 2009 where he announced that the ICC Review Conference would be open to civil society and victims' organisations. He reiterated the important role played by CSOs in the establishment of the Court in Rome in 1998 and called on civil society from all corners of the globe to participate actively in the Review Conference.

Civil society heeded this call, and with support from the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), approximately 600 CSOs gathered in Kampala to host official side events and participate in conference sessions on the future of the ICC. At the conference, the Secretary General again lauded the role of civil society when he noted that the existence of the ICC and the staging of the Review Conference was made possible ‘because of the immense contribution of civil society'. The former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, focusing his remarks more on Africa and the ICC, lauded the active participation of civil society in the creation of the ICC and emphatically stated that the future of the Court depends, in part, on the will and support of civil society. In addition, both Judge Song, President of the ICC and Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Court's Prosecutor, acknowledged civil society's role.

In preparing for the Review Conference, African civil society issued a declaration, which was signed by over 152 organisations, providing insights on issues of importance for the Review Conference. It also encouraged governments to make concrete commitments in support of the ICC and in particular, to make pledges at the Conference and to support the ICC towards the establishment of a liaison office in Addis Ababa. The declaration also emphasised the importance of enacting implementation legislation for the states. A hundred pledges were made at the Conference, including from non-state parties.

To intensify its campaign, civil society converged in Kampala a week before the start of the Review Conference for the International Symposium on Stocktaking Processes. This Symposium aimed to enhance Civil Society's participation in the Review Conference. The symposium, organised by the Ugandan Coalition of the ICC together with the Human Rights Network (HURINET) of Uganda and the International Commission of Jurists, culminated in a communiqué on the work of the ICC, which was officially handed over to the President of the Assembly of State Parties (ASP).

Moreover, various NGOs hosted official side events that highlighted civil society's work and engagement within the Rome Statute system and continued deliberations on the stocktaking topics: impact of the ICC on victims, peace and justice, complementarity and cooperation with the Court.

Despite this good progress and notable impact in Kampala, several challenges lie ahead for civil society. The task now is to ensure that governments stick to the commitments made at the Review Conference (including those contained in their official pledges) and their ongoing obligations as state parties to the Rome Statute. A particular and new challenge stems from the decision on the crime of aggression, which will require further debate, dialogue and interrogation in order to ensure it does not create further unnecessary challenges for the Court.

African CSOs also need to expand and strengthen established networks and continue to build on the relations and interactions with governments. It is important that they continue to lobby and support their governments to work constructively with the ICC when appropriate, and to strengthen domestic capacity to investigate and prosecute grave international crimes. The ICC is a court of last resort, which only has the mandate and capacity to prosecute selected high-profile offenders of international crimes. In reality, the burden of delivering justice to victims of these crimes rests on domestic courts. In Africa, civil society needs to remind governments of their responsibility in this regard and offer technical and capacity building support where appropriate.

Written by: Jemima N Kariri and Nompumelelo Sibalukhulu, International Crime in Africa Programme (ICAP), ISS Pretoria