Justice matters

The writer is a former diplomat
By: Amb. Salahuddin Choudhry

At the outset, it may said that a well-founded justice system is a prerequisite for a rational functioning of a nation state. And social justice so based can deliver wellbeing of a society. In a global order, nothing could be more relevant than connectivity between communities of the world for better living, security, fairplay, peace and happiness.

World Day for International Justice Day is being observed on July 17 this year. It is also referred to as Day of International Criminal Justice, manifesting efforts to recognize the emerging system of international criminal justice. The Day was chosen because it is the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 17th July 1998. On 1ST June 2010, at the Review Conference of the Rome Statute held in Kampala (Uganda), the Assembly of State Parties decided to celebrate 17 July as the Day of International Criminal Justice.

Under the Rome Statue, the ICC can only investigate and prosecute in situations where states are unable or unwilling to do so themselves. Thus, the majority of international crimes continue to go unpunished unless and until domestic systems can properly deal with them. Therefore, permanent solutions to impunity must be found at the domestic level.

Each year, people around the world use International Justice Day to host events to promote international criminal justice, especially support for the International Criminal Court. The day has been successful enough to attract international news attention, and for groups to use the day to focus on particular issues such as genocide in Darfur, Falun Dafa, and serious crimes of violence against women.

As authorized, the ICC investigates and, where warranted, tries individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

The Court participates in a global fight to end impunity, and through international criminal justice, the Court aims to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes and to help prevent these crimes from happening again.

​​The Court cannot reach these goals alone. As a court of last resort, it seeks to complement, not replace, national Courts. Governed by an international treaty called the Rome Statute, the ICC is the world’s first permanent international criminal court.

As very rightly stated by Pope John Paul II, social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.

For the Aim of International Justice Day, it unites everyone who wants to support justice as well as promote victims’ rights. It is to help prevent serious crimes and those that put the peace, security and well-being of the world at risk.

With that objective, many countries, UN System, ILO and NGOs made important points and statements during the 2019 celebrations which are worth a mention here….

Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice believes it is important to reflect on the current issues before the ICC, including progress on gender justice issues. Women’s Initiatives, on International Justice Day, calls on States, international organizations and civil society to continue confronting the widespread use of sexual violence in conflict, and work towards accountability for these heinous crimes.

The Open Society Justice Initiative maintains, there are challenges faced by the ICC and the importance of civil society to strengthen the court. Its leadership notes, “The ICC owes its existence to the courage and persistence of independent voices, activists and victims of grave crimes who kept the dream of a permanent tribunal alive for decades.” With the Court facing historic challenges today, civil society has a vital role to play in helping shape a review process that is credible, thorough and impartial.

The EU High Representative had reaffirmed its longstanding support towards the international criminal justice system and in particular its unwavering commitment to the ICC, as part of the EU’s wider commitment to a rules-based international order on International Criminal Justice Day.

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GlobalR2P) celebrated the World Day for International Justice and commended the commitment of various states, regional bodies as well as multilateral institutions to protect justice for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

From Nuremburg till today, the struggle for international justice has always required legal innovation and political courage. But despite positive action over the past year, Yazidi and Rohingya survivors of military oppression, as well as vulnerable civilians facing ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and elsewhere, are still waiting for their day in the Court.

TRIAL International acknowledged that the 21st anniversary of the ICC may have lost some of its shine due to constant criticism but strongly believes that these criticisms are a sign of strength, and can even be beneficial to the fight against impunity.

The American Bar Association (ABA) called International Criminal Justice Day as an opportunity to reflect on progress made in advancing accountability for atrocity crimes, and to renew commitment to strengthening international justice.

On 17th July, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) reaffirmed its support for ICC, ICJ (International Court of Justice), and other bodies working at the international level to combat impunity and create accountability. AIPR recognized valuable contributions of these bodies to the global fight against mass atrocities through the prosecution of those directly responsible for these crimes.

Many, as victims of atrocities, saluted the work done by the ICC, which tempers one’s anger and gives hope. Deep down, they were inspired that other criminals can be charged so that the hearts of thousands of raped women can find some solace and the millions of souls lost to years of violence may finally rest in peace.

But others lament: “The Court needs to do better. It needs to review its past performance, ask itself some hard questions and make some hard choices so it can work more effectively and efficiently. If it does that, it will have the moral high ground when it asks for what it needs and we will be in a better position to support and promote it.”

There was a newspaper column reflecting on the situation of Afghanistan before the ICC and what the affected communities may be feeling on International Justice Day.

Yet another thought-provoking perspective was on the state of international justice, from the ICC to climate change to reparations and corporate responsibility: “what we should celebrate on inter-national justice day is alchemy, processes that are not perfect. International justice day should be an embrace of imperfection rather than some kind of fetishisation of purism.”

Social justice is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. The international community has to uphold the principles of social justice when it is incumbent to promote gender equality, or the rights of indigenous peoples and migrants. Advancing social justice is for removal of barriers people face because of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture or disability.

As per United Nations, the pursuit of social justice for all is at the core of the global mission to promote development and human dignity. Adoption by the International Labour Organization (ILO) of the Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization, 10th June 2008, is a contemporary vision of ILO’s mandate in the era of globalization and just one recent example of the UN System’s commitment to social justice. The Declaration focuses on guaranteeing fair outcomes for all, through employment, social protection, social dialogue, and fundamental principles and rights at work. It builds on the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944 and the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work of 1998.

This landmark Declaration is a powerful reaffirmation of ILO values. It is the outcome of tripartite consultations that started in the wake of the Report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization. By adopting this text, the representatives of governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations from 182 member States emphasize the key role of the tripartite Organization in helping to achieve progress and social justice in the context of globalization. Together, they commit to enhance the ILO’s capacity to advance these goals, through the Decent Work Agenda. The Declaration institutionalizes the Decent Work concept developed by the ILO since 1999, placing it at the core of the Organization’s policies to reach its constitutional objectives.

UN Human Rights Office, maintains, “those who commit gross violations of human rights or violations of international humanitarian law that amount to international crimes, such as systematic murder, torture, rape, enforced disappearance, enslavement, and destruction of property now have no safe haven”. The ICC is the first international justice mechanism of its kindin the world. It sends a strong message to perpetrators of human rights violations around the globe that one can run but cannot hide.

While the International Justice process is still at the infancy stage, it is developing rapidly. It has its roots in the universal human rights movement, which itself grew out of the atrocities committed during the World War II. More than 70 years later, those who committed those horrors are still being pursued beyond the trials that took place after the war in Nuremberg and Tokyo.

However, international justice has evolved in way that no one who commits such crimes is immune from being held to account, even heads of States. The world has seen General Pinochet facing justice in the 1990s; also Charles Taylor, the former Head of State of Liberia, being tried and convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. We have seen President Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, Gen. Slatko Mladic get convicted in war crimes by ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (where I served UN Peace-keeping Mission as a Sub-Sector Chief).

Further, over 160 persons were indicted by the ICTY, including heads of state, prime ministers, army chiefs-of-staff, and interior ministers. More than 60 individuals have been convicted to date, and, currently, more than 30 individuals are facing trial in on-going proceedings before the Tribunal.

So, we have concrete success stories even if international justice sometimes seems at a slow pace. At the same time, our justice mechanisms are growing stronger and stronger, and the pace of justice is gathering speed.

There is progress as can be seen. Of course, there is need for much more cases, because the current number does not reflect the extent of the atrocious acts being committed, and for these justice mechanisms to fulfil their deterrent role there should be many more of these trials. The message that those who commit violations cannot and will not escape justice has to remain unwavering, at the international and national levels.

It is the duty of every State to both put mechanisms in place to protect its people against violations, and also to ensure accountability in the face of violations. But this is not just a belief. The international human rights obligations of States make it a reality, and it is a key principle upon which the International Criminal Court operates. This means States’ criminal justice systems must have capacity to conduct trials of alleged perpetrators in accordance with international human rights standards.

The international community has a responsibility to ensure accountability in situations where atrocities have been committed but States are unable to provide the necessary justice; and in such cases, one has to develop system of international justice, with established justice mechanisms, like ICC.

International Justice System and Pakistan

The International Justice Day is solemnized – mostly quietly – to remain in conformity with the commitments Pakistan made to the UN System. Regrettably, the situation of dispensation of justice in our country is known to be one of the worst in the world. And, hence expectations at the concerned high bodies is minimal. A few examples are given in later paragraphs.

Pakistan, by virtue of an official Declaration, 29 March 2017, recognizes as compulsory ipso facto and without special agreement in relation to any other State accepting the same obligation, the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) under the Statute of ICJ. (This superseded its earlier Declaration made on 12 September 1960).

The civilized democratic nations have strong justice systems that ensure accountability of every citizen despite his position or stature in the society. One hopes, this Day will inspire our Govt. and relevant agencies to work toward strengthening the judicial system of the country to improve accountability and transparency, among other things of equal importance.

The situation of dispensation of justice in Pakistan is very poor, regret to mention. Increasing poverty, lawlessness, organized crime, fiscal crime, loot and plunder of the state resources, and broad daylight robberies tell the sorry state of affairs in Pakistan. Had there been justice in the society, the kidnappers would not have dared to kidnap the son of a sitting Chief Justice of High Court and to kill a spiritual music maestro, among others; the retired won’t have needed to work after their retirements; those involved in economic crimes would have been behind the bars, according to a lament.


It is a gospel truth that if we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us. It is important we remain under the secure umbrella of recognized international organizations like the UN and abide by the commitments we have made. Only by doing so, we earn credibility and their pleasure. It helps us.

They can help us especially in areas of jurisprudence where we are suspect in the eyes of world. Indeed – like it or not – we are suspect in matters like our age-old prisons system, unjust and capital punishment, wrong convictions, detention without charge/trial, violence/abuses against women, media freedom, blasphemy law, etc. If we dispense justice and are seen to do so, we can get justice elsewhere.

We need to set our house in order. We need to do our homework better and wisely. We should then be able to seek (and get) justice from the international community and world bodies. Our most IMMEDIATE problem is India and IOJK. The perpetrating oppression and human right abuses in occupied Kashmir raised at world forums will receive needed attention and empathy (and backing of Pakistan) provided we are intense, planned and cleverly move our way up.

On this World Day for International Justice, let us vow ourselves and at all levels to do every-thing possible. Let Us REFORM our judicial system, let’s REFORM ourselves. We’ll then be known to be civilized, human and alive. Like Lois M Bujold wanted us to know, the dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them !

The author is a Rotarian and former. Senior career diplomat, he is available on [email protected] and @SaladinCh.