A group of civil society organizations are calling on the EU to establish a special representative to lead its work to promote compliance with international humanitarian law and seek justice for victims of Rome Statute crimes. The organizations are the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights, No Peace Without Justice, Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice, and the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy.

The proposal is gaining traction.

On 29 June, 34 members of the European Parliament sent a letter to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, calling for her to urgently appoint an EU Special Representative for International Humanitarian Law and International Justice.

European lawmakers said, “Now, at a time when the EU and its Member States represent one of the world’s few pillars left supporting an international rules-based order, we need the EU’s principled leadership more than ever, and this leadership would clearly be advanced through a Special Representative dedicated to International Humanitarian Law and International Justice.”

The EU has developed a number of important tools to fight impunity for international crimes and promote respect for international humanitarian law. These include the 2009 Guidelines on Promoting Compliance with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The EU has also adopted a Common Decision on the International Criminal Court (ICC), one of its few binding decisions in matters of foreign policy, and an Action Plan to support its implementation. July 17, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

 “Today’s crises from Syria to Myanmar are marked by an alarming disregard for international law, and civilians are bearing the brunt of atrocities,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “A dedicated, high-level expert is urgently needed to better translate EU policy commitments into effective action to prevent violations and ensure justice when they occur.”

The civil society organisations backing the call for a special representative have authored a backgrounder. According to these organisations, an EU special representative would give greater visibility to the EU’s commitments in these areas, while also facilitating timely, high-level intervention in specific situations.

This increased attention is urgently needed. In April 2018, the EU issued its first report on the implementation of these IHL guidelines; the report stressed that given “the continuing and widespread violations of [international humanitarian law], there can be no grounds for complacency by any international actor.”

At the Coalition's Commemoration of the Rome Statute's 20th anniversary in February 2018, Mogherini had stated “You know you can count on the EU’s constant support for the Court, we will continue to be the point of reference for all those who work for justice and peace all around the world. The path that started in Rome 20 years ago has only just begun…” With this initiative, civil society is calling for the EU to live up to that promise.

The ICC has opened investigations in 10 countries, but it is asked to act in far more places, given mounting violations and abuses. With state cooperation key to delivering on the ICC’s mandate, greater support by the EU and its member states, including in arrests, is needed.

“The EU has played a key role in pushing the fight against impunity forward, but needs to be on guard against threats that may roll back progress,” said Bill Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court and executive director of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP). “Investing now in a dedicated expert will send a timely signal of the EU’s renewed support to the ICC and the broader fight for justice it represents,” Pace continued.  

"The time is really ripe for the European Union to increase its own capacity to deal with pervasive impunity for atrocities such as war crimes, crimes against humanities, genocide and other crimes under international law. The current landscape is a complicated one and it doesn't look set to get much better in the near future. The establishment of a Special Representative on IHL and IJ would also be a strong signal and a visible way to take a strong stand in support of justice and redress for victims. There isn't a better opportunity than 17 July in this 20th anniversary year to make that stand," said Alison Smith, Director of the International Criminal Justice Program, No Peace Without Justice.

The European Parliament first called for the establishment of a special representative for international humanitarian law and international justice in 2011, and repeated this call most recently in its annual human rights report adopted in December 2017 (European Parliament resolution of 13 December 2017 on the Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2016 and the European Union’s policy on the matter). The EU has eight other special representatives, working across seven country situations and in the area of human rights.

The following organisations are urging the EU to appoint an EU Special Representative for International Humanitarian Law and International Justice:

  • Coalition for the International Criminal Court
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Federation for Human Rights
  • No Peace Without Justice
  • Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice
  • World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy.

 

read the background note on an eu special representative for ihl & international justice