On 14-15 April 2019, Guernica members Toby Cadman and Carl Buckley were invited to attend the ‘International Conference on National, Regional and International Mechanisms to Combat Impunity and Ensure Accountability under International Law’ held in Doha by the Qatari National Human Rights Committee, in conjunction with the UN Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, European Parliament and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.
The Conference was attended by a large number of international lawyers, diplomats and representatives of IGOs and NGOs and keynote speeches were presented by the H.E. Ali bin Samikh al Marri, Chairman of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar, Vice-President and Secretary General of GANHRI; H.E. Pier Antonio Panzeri, Chair of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights; H.E. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (Video Address); H.E Carlos Negret Mosquera, President of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI); and H.E Catherine Marchi-Uhel, Head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Crimes in the Syrian Arab Republic.
The Conference had a number of themes, including the Duty to Prosecute and Investigate, Victims right to an Effective Remedy, the Right to Reparation, Right of Access to Court. The various speakers focused on human rights violations around the globe, looking at the situations in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Myanmar and the jurisdiction of international judicial and non-judicial bodies.
The first day saw a number of papers presented to the conference as a whole, with the second day allowing for more nuanced discussion with three ‘workshops’ to be attended wherein specific issues were discussed.
The underlying point appeared to be that regardless of the hurdles to be overcome in seeking accountability, including the position adopted by a number of governments within the international community, is that both the need and the desire for accountability is stronger now than it has ever been.
It is clear that the world over, there are dedicated professionals who work tirelessly in seeking to ensure that impunity is not allowed to reign, and that victims are given a voice.
The issue, is how to end that impunity, and how to ensure that those victims are heard.
There is no easy answer to this question.
The ICC is often seen as being the venue for all of the worlds ills, however, this is as incorrect as it is impossible. The ICC is restricted by its own Statute insofar as the exercise of its jurisdiction is concerned, although, it was encouraging to hear an ICC judge speak in one of the Working Groups about how each and every state should be encouraged to ratify the Rome Statute and thus allow the ICC to become truly global.
The ICC therefore has its place, but those of us that seek redress on behalf of victims must become creative in our approach.
We must look to the jurisdiction of the ICC and push its boundaries, much like Guernica has done in terms of the Rohingya with jurisdiction through Bangladesh, and more recently, as we have done in our Article 15 Communication to the ICC concerning Syria, applying the Myanmar decision to Syria through Jordan.
Accountability is more than the ICC though, it is reached domestically through building the capacity of existing institutions and developing new ones, it is reached through ratification of various UN Conventions, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it is reached through regional mechanisms, and it is reached through conferences such as that arranged by the NHRC of Qatar, encouraging discussion, debate, and formulating a set of demands of make of national governments so as to ensure impunity is not allowed to reign.
This conference provided an essential platform for contributors from a number of professions and from a number of countries, all with the same vision, and the same aim.
The NHRC of Qatar, and the State of Qatar itself ought to be applauded for facilitating what was an interesting discussion, and an essential forum.
The hope that this was not just another conference, but the development of a broader discussion and movement.