An op-ed by Philip Grant
Today marks 20 years since the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was adopted. The ICC receives significant media coverage all over the world, yet its action arises from a far more discreet process: everything starts with unknown individuals determined to bring about change. On this anniversary, let’s celebrate the role of civil society in international justice!
Being closest to the ground, NGOs are often the first to report international crimes and collect testimonies from survivors. Without their help, few victims would be able to reach out to the competent jurisdictions – be it for lack of information or resources, or out of fear of reprisals. These civil society organizations are thus the eyes and ears of the judiciary. Thanks to them, crimes are reported, the first pieces of evidence are gathered, victims are defended, and authorities are held accountable.
Once the proceedings have been initiated, NGOs maintain a fundamental role in investigations and in the representation of victims, especially when the courts are distant – geographically and culturally – from the crime scene.
Years of fighting behind each decision
In difficult contexts such as Burundi, DRC and Mexico, NGOs battle on the front line, with all the associated safety risks. Several examples in recent months have shown how crucial collaboration between organizations is in achieving justice for victims.
In countries where conflicts have been over for a long time, such as in Nepal and Bosnia and Herzegovina, NGOs are often the only actors to keep supporting victims. Confronted with inert authorities, they often fight against amnesia and indifference.
Finally, we must remember that civil society is at the root of the first permanent international criminal body. The Coalition for the International Criminal Court brings together thousands of organizations fighting for the universal ratification of the Rome Statute and the incorporation its provisions into the law of member states. These NGOs also help the Court gather evidence and ensure that victims and witnesses are informed of the proceedings and their rights.
Determined individuals behind each NGO
But we can analyze the dynamics even further: non-governmental organizations are themselves made up of individuals. Ordinary people whose power to act does not arise from a position of influence, but from the conviction that everyone can be a driver of change.
Justice will not come from above but from our individual and collective efforts, here and now. And we can all, at our level and with our abilities, contribute to it.