Overview by David Lando, Research Associate PILPG-NL
Christian Wenaweser – Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein to the UN
Phakiso Mochochoko – Director of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity, and Cooperation Division in the Office of the Prosecutor
Mr. Wenaweser’s demonstrated the magnitude of the crime of enslavement and human trafficking and the impunity gap: “there are millions of people living in slavery, but at the same time, there are only 5.000 proceedings taking place today across the world that regard the crime of slavery.”
Mr. Mochochoko highlighted the importance of domestic authorities in the battle against the crimes of enslavement and human trafficking.
Despite being short, and constituting only three panelists, the event attempted to tackle an important issue in international law and justice. Namely, how to end impunity for crimes of slavery, forced marriages, and human trafficking.
Christian Wenaweser, the Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein to the UN, opened the event by describing the magnitude of the crimes that are committed: “20 to 45 million people are the victims of slavery. Many believe that slavery is a thing of the past, but these numbers prove this is far from the truth.” And while the crimes are ubiquitous, there is little legal proceedings to confront them: “there are millions of people living in slavery, but at the same time, there are only 5.000 proceedings taking place today across the world that regard the crime of slavery.” Therefore, “it is important to understand that there is a huge impunity gap.” This gap should be confronted, at least partly, by the ICC, Wenaweser continued: “the ICC should exercise its mandate on this matter through raising awareness and prosecuting.”
The debate then shifted from discussing the problems of modern slavery to the possible way to confront them by the ICC. Phakiso Mochochoko, Director of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity, and Cooperation Division in the Office of the Prosecutor, argued that, “modern slavery is not confronted with the vigor needed to encounter it.” Yet, the ICC does “have the ammunition” to do so. The ICC, he argued, can do so not only under the auspices of war crimes, but as crimes against humanity.
The moderator of the event then turned to receive questions from the crowd. I raised the issue that despite the optimism of Mr. Mochochoko, it seems to me that this crime is especially difficult to encounter by the ICC as it lays in a multi-layered liminal space: it lays between the jurisdiction of different States (about which another member of the audience added that some of these States may not even be parties to the Rome Statute), it is both a national issue and an international issue, and it is unclear whether it is individuals that should be investigated or the corporations that facilitate modern slavery. On this, and other questions to that effect, Mr. Mochochoko replied that “on the international level the ICC has enough ammunition against it [modern slavery and human trafficking], but the national level should develop further. This is an important weapon against this crime. Cooperation is a tricky issue. ICC is about individuals; therefore, it is difficult to focus on corporations and businesses. If we find individuals that commit these crimes we will prosecute them, but to establish their connection to corporations is difficult.” Moreover, “States have the primary obligation to prohibit modern slavery and human trafficking. States through national investigations must punish and deter the commission of these crimes. Moreover, the Office of the Prosecutor is willing to stand alongside States in assisting them in combating these heinous crimes. The Office will also look to improve collaboration with different branches of the United Nations.” One interesting statement by Mr. Mochochoko came in response to an assertion by a member of the audience that the first step to fight impunity in this matter is to clearly define in the Rome Statute what exactly modern slavery constitutes. To this, Mr Mochochoko responded: ” Crime of enslavement is fully covered. I am not sure there is need for more elaboration on it in the Statute. The Statute does give us a broad possibility to act on forced marriage as well.”