A Global System of Justice

Amnesty International’s Campaign for International Justice demands justice, truth and full reparations for victims of crimes under international law.

In recent history, millions of individuals have been the victim of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. In the last two decades, major progress has been made towards reversing this trend of impunity by establishing a new system of international justice to respond to these crimes with prompt, impartial, effective and fair investigations and prosecutions.

With the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002, a clear message has been sent around the world that failure to investigate and prosecute these crimes at the national level, will not be tolerated. The challenge now is to ensure that this new international justice system succeeds in practice.

Amnesty International’s Campaign for International Justice will support international justice in the next crucial years when it is expected that it will face tough tests and political attacks as it challenges entrenched trends of impunity. We are campaigning for:

  • more states to commit themselves to international justice by ratifying and implementing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court;
  • governments and intergovernmental organizations to provide the International Criminal Court and other courts investigating and prosecuting these crimes with full cooperation and support;
  • more national authorities to exercise universal jurisdiction to ensure their countries are not safe havens for perpetrators of crimes under international law.

Recognizing that the root cause of impunity lies in the failure of national authorities to act, Amnesty International also demands that authorities respond to crimes committed in their countries or by their nationals. They must take prompt and effective steps to ensure:

  • Justice: by investigating all crimes and, when there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecuting the suspects in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty or extraditing suspects to states able and willing to do so; and
  • Truth: by establishing and acknowledging the facts about the crimes; and
  • Full reparation: by taking effective measures to address the suffering of victims and their families caused by the crimes and to help them rebuild their lives.

Amnesty International’s Campaign for International Justice is working together with thousands of other organizations to lobby governments worldwide to create a system of international justice that complements and reinforces national justice systems. Such a system is essential to ensure victims have access to justice, truth and full reparation.

The International Criminal Court+

The establishment of a new permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 represents a major breakthrough in international justice. The ICC is the world’s first permanent, international judicial body capable of bringing perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, to justice and providing reparation to victims when states are unable or unwilling genuinely to do so.

Since the adoption of the treaty establishing the ICC (known as the Rome Statute), almost two-thirds of UN member states have ratified it. Only a handful of countries have refused outright to join the Court – although countries like the United States of America have shown increasing support for the work of the Court over time as it has proved to be an effective tool in the fight against impunity.

To ensure the success of the International Criminal Court, Amnesty International campaigns for:

  1. All governments to ratify the Rome Statute to ensure that it has the broadest jurisdiction.
  2. All governments to enact effective implementing legislation ensuring that they can prosecute the crimes before national courts and cooperate fully with the Court.
  3. The Assembly of States Parties made up of countries that have ratified the Rome Statute to provide full political and financial support, as well as full oversight, of the Court.
  4. All governments to cooperate fully with the Court in investigating and prosecuting the crimes.
  5. The Court to investigate and prosecute crimes in accordance with the highest standards of international justice.

Justice+

Domestic Justice

History demonstrates that when genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances have been committed, in nearly all cases, national authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

The common reasons for this failure are:

  • Lack of political will;
  • Political decisions to establish amnesties protecting the perpetrators;
  • Collapse of the national legal system;
  • Inadequate national laws criminalizing the crimes; and
  • Other legal obstacles to justice, including statutes of limitations and immunities.

Although in some instances international and internationalized criminal courts have been established to prosecute crimes in a few national situations, in practice they have only prosecuted them in a small number of cases.

To combat impunity effectively, it is essential that states directly affected by these crimes fulfil their responsibilities and that international courts or other states, acting on behalf of the entire international community, step in to do so when these states fail to act.

Establishing effective national frameworks to guarantee against impunity

Amnesty International is campaigning for all governments, regardless of whether or not they have been directly affected by these crimes in recent history, to:

  • ensure that national laws enable authorities to investigate and prosecute these crimes wherever and whenever they have occurred without obstacles; and
  • ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities of the International Criminal Court and ensure that national law provides for full cooperation with the International Criminal Court, in case the national justice system is unable or unwilling genuinely to prosecute the crimes and the Court steps in.

Investigating and prosecuting the crimes before national courts

When crimes under international law are committed, Amnesty International campaigns for the governments of the countries where the crimes were committed or whose nationals committed the crimes to establish, with the help of the international community, a long-term comprehensive plan of action to ensure that all crimes are investigated and, where there is sufficient evidence, those suspected of committing the crimes are prosecuted in fair trials, without recourse to the death penalty, torture or ill-treatment or other human rights violations.

Since these crimes are the worst crimes known to humanity, any national barriers to prosecution must be removed, including immunities, amnesties and statutes of limitations.

Universal Jurisdiction

Universal jurisdiction, an essential tool of international justice, is the ability of a court of any state to try persons for crimes committed outside its territory that are not linked to the state by the nationality of the suspect or the victims or by harm to the state’s own national interests. Using this principle, national courts may prosecute crimes under international law committed anywhere in the world.

Recognizing that impunity exists mainly when the national authorities of countries affected by the crimes fail to act, it is important that the national criminal and civil justice systems of all countries can step in to prosecute the crimes on behalf of the international community and award reparation to victims.

Amnesty International campaigns for all governments to empower their national courts to take on this important role by enacting and using legislation providing for universal jurisdiction. Such legislation should enable national authorities to investigate and prosecute any person suspected of the crimes, regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the accused and the victim and to award reparation to victims and their families. In doing so, governments will ensure that their countries cannot be used as safe havens by the worst criminals.

Legal research by Amnesty International shows that 166 (approximately 85%) of the 193 UN member states have defined one or more of four categories of crimes under international law (genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture) as crimes in their national law. The organization is campaigning for all states to enact universal jurisdiction legislation over all crimes under international law.

Since the end of the Second World War, more than 19 countries have exercised universal jurisdiction (or are attempting to do so) in investigations or prosecutions of persons suspected of crimes under international law, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Others, such as Mexico, have extradited persons to countries for prosecution based on universal jurisdiction.

International and Internationalized Courts

Independent of the International Criminal Court, other international and internationalized criminal courts have been established since 1993 to respond to genocide, crime against humanity and war crimes.

Ad hoc international criminal tribunals
In 1993, the United Nations Security Council decided to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in response to large scale crimes committed in the Balkans region.

A year later, in response to the genocide in Rwanda, the Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Both Tribunals are international:

  • they are established independent of the national justice systems in the affected countries;
  • they have international judges, lawyers and other staff;
  • they are funded by the international community.

Despite prosecuting a significant number of important cases, both the ICTY and ICTR have experienced major problems in obtaining cooperation from states to arrest and surrender those charged with crimes to the Tribunals for trial.

Hybrid or internationalized courts

Since the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the international community has not repeated the model of establishing ad hoc international criminal tribunals.

Instead, to respond to crimes in other situations, the international community has worked with the affected country to established “internationalized” courts that mix national and international systems. No standard model of internationalized courts has been established and each of those created have been unique.

Amnesty International is following the work of internationalized courts to ensure that they conduct their work in accordance with the highest standards of justice.

Although Amnesty International notes the value of organizing justice initiatives in the country where the crimes were committed and, in doing so, building the national justice system, the organization also notes that common problems are emerging:

  • some elements of internationalized courts statutes and rules are flawed and not consistent with the highest standards of international justice
  • internationalized courts have only prosecuted a very small number of cases in situations where mass crimes have been committed
  • internationalized courts have experienced difficulties in securing cooperation from other states
  • internationalized courts have experienced serious financial problems because they have been funded by voluntary contributions and states have failed to contribute
  • internationalized courts have failed to act as a catalyst to ensure that the national courts investigate and prosecute other crimes under international law with which they are unable to deal

Truth+

All victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances have a right to know the truth about the crimes perpetrated against them.

Truth is a vital response to crimes under international law, in order for:

  • The direct victims to know the whole truth about the crimes they suffered and the reasons behind it, as well as to have their suffering publicly acknowledged;
  • FFamily members, particularly of those killed or disappeared, to find out what happened to their loved-one and to establish their whereabouts; and
  • The affected society to know the circumstances surrounding and reasons that led to violations being committed to ensure that they will not be committed again, and to have their shared experiences acknowledged and preserved.

In more than 30 countries, truth commissions have been established as official, temporary, non-judicial fact-finding bodies to investigate a pattern of abuses of human rights, including the crimes, and to establish the truth. Most conclude their work with a final report containing findings of fact and recommendations.

Amnesty International campaigns for the effective establishment and functioning of truth commissions. In particular, the organization campaigns for truth commissions to take a victim-centred approach and to uphold the right of victims to obtain truth, justice and full reparation. To this end, truth commissions should:

  • Clarify as far as possible the facts about past human rights violations;
  • Provide the evidence they gather to continuing and new investigations and criminal judicial proceedings;
  • Formulate effective recommendations for providing full reparations to all the victims and their families

Truth commissions: a worldwide phenomenon

From 1974 to 2010, at least 40 truth commissions were established in over 30 countries. More than half of these commissions have been established in the past ten years. Other truth commissions are also being considered.

Reparations+

All victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances have a right to full and effective reparations. 

Reparations are measures to address the suffering of victims resulting from these horrific crimes and to help them rebuild their lives. Reparations can include:

  • Restitution: measures aimed at restoring the victim to the original situation before the crime occurred, including: restoration of liberty, return to one’s place of residence, restoration of employment and return of property.
  • Compensation: monetary awards for economically assessable damage, such as: physical or mental harm; lost opportunities, including employment, education and social benefits; material damages and loss of earnings; moral damage; costs required for legal or expert assistance, medicine and medical services and psychological and social services.
  • Rehabilitation: medical and psychological care, as well as legal and social services.
  • Satisfaction: includes: establishing the truth about the crimes; the search for the whereabouts of the disappeared and for the bodies of those killed; public apology, and commemorations and tributes to the victims.
  • Guarantees of non-repetition: measures aimed at ensuring that victims are not subject to other crimes, including: strengthening the independence of the judiciary; human rights training for law enforcement officials as well as military and security forces; and reforming laws that contributed to or allowed the crimes to be committed.

Disturbingly, in most situations where the crimes have been committed, reparations have not been provided to victims and their suffering has been ignored.

Amnesty International supports victims receiving full reparation, including compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition of the crimes committed against them.

Amnesty International campaigns for governments to ensure that victims of these crimes receive full and effective reparations without delay. Furthermore, to ensure at that they act as a catalyst for national reparations, Amnesty International campaigns for the International Criminal Court and other international and internationalized courts to establish effective systems to provide reparations to victims of crimes that they prosecute.

What does the right to reparation mean to victims?

Reparations have the power to transform the lives of individuals and communities affected by crimes under international law. Reparation measures may include a wide number of initiatives that serve to redress the harm suffered or put the victimized individual or community back in the position they would have enjoyed if the crimes had never taken place. For example, a victim of rape might receive medical and psychological assistance as well as benefitting from programmes that aim to eradicate stigma and discrimination against rape survivors in society and break cycles of victimization and disempowerment of women.

Under international law, reparations can be provided by states or by individuals with criminal responsibility for crimes under international law. Reparations are often identified by victims as integral to their understanding of “justice”. This is because reparation measures complement victims’ rights to justice and truth. While criminal processes can serve to acknowledge the harm suffered by victims, identify the perpetrators, establish responsibility and provide punishment, reparation is focused on restoring the dignity of the victim through concrete forms of assistance as well as symbolic measures, such as guarantees of non-recurrence of the crime. The integration of a reparation process into the ICC is therefore a crucial step towards ensuring a comprehensive approach to providing redress for crimes under international law.

The ICC and Reparation

The ICC is the first international criminal court to incorporate a comprehensive reparation process, allowing the judges to order convicted persons to deliver reparation to victims including “restitution, compensation, and rehabilitation” . In many ways, the ICC is charting new territory by combining a reparation mandate with its core functions of investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating crimes under international law. This is one aspect of the ICC that demonstrates its commitment to a “victim-centric” approach to tackling impunity for crimes under international law. The ICC is likely to issue reparation orders similar to those provided by other international courts. For example, the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights have ordered a wide range of measures such as:

  • Educational opportunities, such as building of schools and scholarships
  • Healthcare, including reconstructive surgery, physical therapy and psychological care for trauma disorders
  • Compensation payments
  • Return of land and dwellings
  • Official and public apologies
  • Memorials and commemorations
  • Legislative reform and public programmes
  • Training for law enforcement and public officials

These measures may be individual or collective, and may depend on the nature of the harm suffered by the victims as a result of the crime. An approach focused on ensuring reparation measures are precisely tailored to the needs and wants of victims is increasingly favoured.