International Institutions

Protecting and promoting human rights through international bodies

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From the United Nations to the World Health Organization these institutions provide an important foundation, legitimacy, and universality to the human rights movement. But many of these institutions are also political bodies, challenged by bureaucracy, power imbalances, and the movement of global geopolitics. These articles explore the opportunities international institutions provide and the challenges they face in protecting and upholding human rights and justice.

 

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Treaty Body Reform

The International Criminal Court

Sustainable Development Goals

 

Putting people at the heart of the human rights treaty body system

By: Ashley Bowe & Joshua Cooper
Français

Samoa held a ground-breaking treaty body session on child rights, evidencing the benefits of extending these sessions beyond Geneva.

Human rights victims’ complaints to UN not treated effectively

By: Alexandre Skander Galand & Başak Çalı
Español | Français

UN human rights treaties allow individuals to launch complaints when their rights are violated—but the system for dealing with them needs urgent reform.

Improving domestic compliance with UN treaty body decisions

By: Irina Criveț
Español | Türkçe

Many victims are denied access to international justice because states do not act in a timely manner, but reforming the treaty body follow-up process could help.

The UN Human Development Report must go farther on inequality

By: Steven L. B. Jensen
Español

In order for human rights and development to be mutually reinforcing, the connection between the two must be made as explicit as possible.

What difference does the UN human rights treaty system make, and why?

By: Christof Heyns & Frans Viljoen
Español | Français

A new, global academic study to answer this question is launched in collaboration with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Can international human rights law be creatively deployed to expand its protections?

By: Raymond A. Smith
Español

How can international human rights law be creatively deployed to expand protections to other characteristics related to severe and systematic rights violations?

Small states face big challenges in engaging UN treaty bodies

By: Malene Alleyne & Felix Kirchmeier
Español | Français

Small states often lack the capacity to engage effectively with the treaty body system as currently structured—it must become more streamlined and present locally ...

How do treaty bodies respond to situations of crisis such as Burundi?

By: Armel Niyongere
Español | Français

Treaty bodies showed their ability to take the right measures in situations of crisis like in Burundi. A coordination with the high-level bodies of the United Nations, ...

The Committee System: 2020 and Beyond

By: Olivier de Frouville
Español | Français

The treaty body system has been in crisis for at least thirty years. Will the year 2020 bring change?

Following up—the key to seeing states act on treaty body recommendations

By: Marcia V. J. Kran
Español

UN treaty bodies need to monitor and follow-up on the recommendations they make to states. Some have begun doing so in innovative ways, and more could be done.

How a UN Committee Contributed to End a Controversial Mining Project in French Guiana

By: Alexandre Sommer-Schaechtele
Français

The indigenous peoples of French Guiana used an urgent procedure of the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to help stop a mining development—more ...

UN inefficiencies undermine effective handling of individual petitions

By: Kamelia Kemileva
Français

The UN treaty bodies receive thousands of individual complaints, but the secretariat that deals with them is ill-equipped to do so effectively.

Venezuela: UN human rights system needs more coherence and coordination

By: Marianna A. Romero
Español

Venezuela’s election to the Human Rights Council despite UN scrutiny—including by Treaty Bodies—of human rights abuses shows need for greater coherence in the international ...

UN treaty bodies advance LGBTI rights

By: Kseniya Kirichenko
Español | Русский

The UN treaty bodies are increasingly scrutinizing states’ treatment of LGBTI persons, and this is having positive local impact.

No more tinkering—real reform needed to UN human rights treaty monitoring

By: Navi Pillay
Español | Français

The human rights treaty bodies are central to human rights reform efforts, but are burdened by inefficiencies. The upcoming UN review offers a chance to make them ...

Ukraine may need to look beyond the ICC for justice

By: Quincy Cloet
Español

While many Ukranians place their hopes in the ICC to end impunity, improving the local judiciary could be a more effective development.

UN human rights mechanisms proving effective SDGs monitor

By: Steven L. B. Jensen
Español | Français | العربية

The SDGs are mostly aligned with human rights objectives—to emphasize this, the UN human rights mechanisms are showing a willingness to hold states accountable ...

In Afghanistan, the ICC abandons the field

By: Param-Preet Singh
Español

In giving undue weight to politics and practicalities in their decision to abandon war crimes investigations in Afghanistan, the ICC judges have set a dangerous ...

Silencing the drama - Do the SDG indicators expose the injustices that limit women’s sexual and reproductive lives?

By: Alicia Ely Yamin
Español

The SDGs are a step forward for women’s equality and sexual and reproductive rights, but the indicators used to measure progress may prove problematic for rights ...

The Gbagbo acquittal and the battle for the ICC’s legitimacy

By: Mark Kersten
Español | Français

The acquittal of Laurent Gbagbo by the ICC is seen by many as a blow to the Court’s legitimacy – but legitimacy is a measure of expectations and these vary widely ...

Inaction on gender equality puts SDGs at risk

By: Marte Hellema & Hannie Meesters
Español

If there is no fundamental and transformational change in how gender equality is addressed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the entire SDG agenda is ...

New and inclusive measuring needed for SDG promise of access to justice for all

By: Sukti Dhital & Meg Satterthwaite
Español | Français

SDG 16 promises access to justice for all, but current plans for measuring progress are far too limited. There are opportunities in 2019 to change this.

Crucial year ahead to pursue access to justice for all

By: Elizabeth Andersen
Español

Several key events in 2019 provide a real opportunity to progress on SDG 16—ensuring access to justice for all—and to do so in ways that tackle inequality too.

Could “hope and aspirations” end the vicious cycle of poverty?

By: Keetie Roelen
Español

Non-invasive and non-punitive interventions that draw on positive emotions have promising potential to break the poverty cycle, but this approach risks ignoring ...

Leaders, exile, and the dilemmas of international justice

By: Daniel Krcmaric
Español | Français

The advance of international justice means that the “golden parachute” of exile is no longer an easy option for abusive rulers. The bad news is that this may be ...

The SDGs and gender equality: empty promises or beacon of hope?

By: Kate Donald  & Silke Staab
Français | Español

In a challenging global context for equality and women’s rights, a new UN Women report illustrates how human rights can move SDGs beyond rhetoric of “leaving no ...

Breaking the human rights gridlock by embracing the Sustainable Development Goals

By: Ted Piccone
Español | 简体中文 | العربية | Français

The dangers of a growing global divergence on human rights, with the rise of authoritarian powers, might be avoided by embracing the global consensus of rights-based ...

Why an anti-ICC narrative may help Kenyan leaders win votes

By: Geoff Dancy

Anti-ICC narratives resonate with a crucial minority of Kenyan citizens, but not with victims of political violence.

Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a weapon against populism

By: Martin S. Edwards & Lis Kabashi

The Sustainable Development Goals could give activists the rhetoric they need to hold the Trump administration accountable.

Looking deeper to understand African governments’ opposition to the ICC

By: Ayodele Akenroye

African governments are withdrawing from the ICC with valid criticisms—but what can be done to make the Court less imbalanced?

Tackling inequality: the potential of the Sustainable Development Goals

By: Kate Donald 
Español

Sustainable Development Goal 10 on reducing inequality will require profound changes to “business-as-usual” and close attention to human rights.

“Quit before they get hit”: withdrawals from the ICC are an indicator of the Court’s success

By: Chris Dolan

Are presidents who seek to withdraw from the ICC in denial about a rare instance of achieved gender equality?

The complex reality beyond the trial of Dominic Ongwen

By: Sarah Kihika Kasande & Virginie Ladisch

Dominic Ongwen faces trial at the ICC for crimes of which he was also a victim—forcing us to reevaluate dichotomies of guilt and innocence.

The ICC needs to ally with victims

By: Reed Brody
Français

To survive the current crisis, the ICC must recruit its most persuasive allies—the victims of atrocity crimes themselves.

A string of departures from the ICC is ringing alarm bells

By: James A. Goldston

Three African states have pulled out of the ICC with other departures in the works, putting ICC legitimacy in crisis.

ICC will investigate environmental destruction as well as war crimes

By: Richard J. Rogers 
Español

The ICC is now prioritizing crimes involving environmental destruction and land grabbing. How will this change economic development?

New Katanga trial shows DRC’s potential to try complex international crimes

By: Paul Seils & Myriam Raymond-Jetté 

A DRC warlord convicted by the ICC will now also face prosecution by national courts in the DRC—an enormously welcome step.

Rethinking what ICC success means at the Bemba Trial

By: Valerie Arnould
Français

When measuring ICC success, we need to examine the local impact and not just the international effects.

Two forums, two approaches to advancing the SDGs and human rights

By: Savio Carvalho

Recent global assemblies make it clear—to achieve the SDGs we need to find ways to hold governments, UN agencies and the private sector accountable for the pledges ...

To implement Agenda 2030 in Africa, people must be at the centre

By: Charles Kojo Vandyck  & Maame Darkwaa Twum Barima

Increasing threats to citizens’ freedoms will derail the sustainable development goals.

Colombia’s constrained peace process: how courts alter peace-making

By: Sandra Borda & Courtney Hillebrecht & Alexandra Huneeus
Español

The Colombia case shows international courts do impact local peace-making, but in ways more subtle and nuanced than commonly claimed.

Lessons from Kenya: unpacking the ICC’s deterrent effect

By: Yvonne M. Dutton  & Tessa Alleblas

Although recent empirical work suggests that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a deterrent effect, Kenya’s experience requires a deeper look.

Tackling inequality as injustice: four challenges for the human rights agenda

By: Gaby Oré Aguilar & Ignacio Saiz
Español | Français

Human rights can help confront economic inequality, but four conceptual, normative, strategic and methodological challenges must be overcome.

Running the numbers on ICC deterrence: when does it actually work?

By: Hyeran Jo & Beth A. Simmons
Español

Systematic assessments reveal that the ICC can deter intentional civilian killing, but only under the right conditions.

Côte d’Ivoire: The International Criminal Court with its back against the wall

By: Eric-Aimé Semien
Français

Four years after the ICC's intervention in Ivory Coast, opinions are still divided regarding its impact

Still falling short—the ICC’s capacity crisis

By: Elizabeth Evenson & Jonathan O’Donohue 

The ICC’s proposed expansion still falls well short of meeting the significant demands on the court.

Will SDGs lofty ambition undermine advocacy to achieve them?

By: Charles F. Maccormack & Sarah Stroup
Español

The SDGs are certainly more comprehensive, and inclusive of human rights concerns and all relevant actors, than the previous development goals, but this may make ...

Winning a place for human rights in the new sustainable development agenda

By: Kate Donald 
Español | العربية

Though far from perfect, the new Sustainable Development Goals include important human rights commitments and do a better job than the MDGs of linking human rights ...

The key to ICC success: widening the reach of international justice

By: James A. Goldston
Español | Français

Technical legal arguments are insufficient to address growing disenchantment with the ICC. More must be done to extend the reach of international justice to the ...

ICC success depends on its impact locally

By: Elizabeth Evenson
Français

Delivering justice for victims is the raison d’etre of the ICC. But making justice count for victims requires much more than fair trials in a Hague courtroom.

Law and politics at the International Criminal Court

By: Benson Chinedu Olugbuo

The ICC should be above politics, but some of the rules found in the Rome Statute make that difficult.

Elevate the law in fight against atrocities

By: Kip Hale 
Español

No one would argue the law should be subservient to politics when confronting domestic criminality, so why should this be the case for international crimes?

Is the relationship of the ICC and R2P truly “win-win”?

By: Ruben Reike
Français | العربية

Evidence from Syria and Libya suggests that linkages between the ICC and R2P are not always win-win.

ICC action and the domestic effects of transnational criminality

By: Valentina Azarov
العربية

Noisy discussions in the Israeli/Palestinian context have obscured how the ICC’s role may impact Israel’s relations with other states, especially in Europe.

At the ICC, there is no deterrence without resources

By: Mariana Rodríguez-Pareja  & Salvador Herencia-Carrasco
Español

To deter atrocities, the ICC requires more diplomatic support, financial resources and logistical assistance from the Security Council.

Reframing the justice debate in Colombia

By: Paul Seils
Español

The debate about whether or not—or how—to punish the crimes committed in Colombia’s long civil war should focus instead on the objectives punishment might achieve.

To prevent atrocities, count on politics first, law later

By: Jack Snyder & Leslie Vinjamuri
Español | Français

Recent studies pointing to the global deterrent effect of the ICC and international law in reducing atrocities are highly speculative.

The International Criminal Court at risk

By: Elizabeth Evenson & Jonathan O’Donohue 
Español | Français

With all-too-limited resources, the ICC is falling behind in the fight against impunity. Unless drastic measures are taken, it may never catch up.

Palestine’s accession to the ICC may strengthen peace-first approach

By: Leslie Vinjamuri

While civil society pushes a rights-first agenda in Palestine, resistance towards Palestine’s ICC membership suggests that governments may not embrace this approach.

Small steps forward? International pressure and accountability for atrocities in Sri Lanka

By: Kate Cronin-Furman
Español | Français

In countries like Sri Lanka – not party to the ICC – international pressure plays an important role in keeping a focus on the issue of accountability for mass atrocities.

Eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030

By: Nafissatou J. Diop
Français | العربية

The UN’s proposed new development goals include a target to end harmful traditional practices like FGM by 2030. We now know the key steps needed to get there.

The Ongwen trial at the ICC: tough questions on child soldiers

By: Mark Drumbl
Español | العربية

LRA commander and former child soldier Dominic Ongwen’s forthcoming trial at the ICC risks obscuring the complex question of how to achieve justice when a victim ...

The ICC in Libya – justice delayed and denied

By: Thomas Ebbs & Elham Saudi
العربية

The ICC has issued only 3 indictments in Libya, and no new ones since 2011 – even amidst growing violence. New approaches are needed to make the Court’s mandate ...

The ICC and negotiated peace: reflections from Colombia

By: Rodrigo Uprimny & Nelson Camilo Sanchez
Español | Français

The Colombian case shows the need for flexibility in balancing the duty to prosecute international crimes with the duty to negotiate an end to the civil war.

The ICC’s deterrent impact – what the evidence shows

By: Geoff Dancy & Bridget Marchesi & Florencia Montal & Kathryn Sikkink
Español | Français

Despite increased criticism against the International Criminal Court, new evidence suggests that the Court may be having a real deterrent impact.

The ICC and beyond: tipping the scales of international justice

By: Ottilia Anna Maunganidze

International Criminal Court developments in 2014 have certainly been important, but we must also look to key events in regional and national institutions that ...

Throwing justice under the bus is not the way to go

By: Richard Dicker
Français

Past experience suggests warnings that international criminal trials impede peace efforts are overblown. The ICC prosecutor mustn’t politicize her mandate by paying ...

ICC – threat or opportunity for Israel-Palestine?

By: Jessica Montell
العربية | עברית

Palestinian accession to the ICC could provide an impetus for Israel to resolve the issue of settlements in the political arena before it reaches a legal adjudication.

Justice denied? The ICC’s record in the DRC

By: Pascal Kambale
Français

The ICC has pursued the "small fish" in the DRC, letting those most responsible for the worst crimes off the hook.

The ‘interests of justice’ require challenging impunity

By: Dan Saxon

The ICC may consider the local context, but no policy or legal decision that permits impunity for gross human rights abuse can satisfy the interests of justice.

The politics of impunity little impacted by the ICC

By: Sarah Nouwen
Español

The intervention of the ICC in some countries has many effects, but little impact on promoting real accountability – and at times working against that goal.

‘Sovereignty’ no defence against ICC action in Sudan

By: Kamal Elgizouli
Español | العربية

Respect for ‘sovereignty’ is no defence against ICC action in Sudan, as the government claims. International standards, many that Sudan signed, make clear a state’s ...

Intolerance of impunity does not make ICC an enemy of peace

By: Paul Seils
العربية

Demanding accountability for war crimes does make the job of peace mediators more difficult, but so be it – an ICC investigation cannot be bargained away.

The International Criminal Court in Africa: a failed experiment?

By: Mwangi S. Kimenyi

Africa can benefit greatly from an International Criminal Court that is credible, fair, competent and independent - the current Court fails on all counts.

The surprising impact of the Rome Statute in India

By: Usha Ramanathan
हिन्दी

Though India refuses to join the ICC, the Rome Statute has proved very useful in pushing for law reform that would put an end to decades of impunity for state complicity ...

The ICC mustn’t give up in Kenya

By: Njonjo Mue
Kiswahili

While the ICC has encountered serious challenges in Kenya, the Court has an important role to play in strengthening Kenyan rule of law and holding elites to account.

The ICC and its impact: more known unknowns

By: Mark Kersten
Français | Español

When it comes to the ICC’s impact on peace processes, we actually know very little, which may be because we are asking the wrong questions. It’s time to create ...

Does the ICC advance the interests of justice?

By: Priscilla Hayner
Français | Español

What exactly are the “interests of justice” in the context of the ICC? And should the ICC prosecutor take conflict resolution into account, or do the interests ...

Introducing this week's theme: The International Criminal Court - from a troubled past, what future for International Justice?

By: David Petrasek & Archana Pandya

The Rome Statute established the ICC with an independent Prosecutor and a robust and comprehensive mandate to end impunity for the worst crimes. But now, after ...

The ICC – breach in the dyke, or high water mark?

By: David Petrasek
Français

The International Criminal Court has failed to live up to expectations that it would mark the end of impunity. Beset by controversy, and its continued relevance ...

Ebola, human rights, and poverty – making the links

By: Alicia Ely Yamin

The Ebola crisis shows the necessity of a human rights approach to public health that focuses on discrimination and accountability, and the crisis itself has been ...

Development and human rights – a plea for a more critical embrace

By: V. Nagaraj
Español

The human rights framework provides an inadequate tool for understanding the deeper processes of development, and its uncritical embrace risks imposing a legal ...

Transforming the development agenda requires more, not less, attention to human rights

By: Radhika Balakrishnan & Ignacio Saiz

The UN General Assembly later this month will begin negotiations over the content of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to succeed the Millennium Development ...

Beyond deterrence: the ICC effect in the DRC

By: Michael Broache
Français

When does the ICC have a preventive effect? Evidence from DRC shows that it may not be the logic of deterrence that works best to prevent atrocities.

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