Side Event – “Justice, peace and security in Africa: deepening the role of the ICC (hosted by the Africa Network of International Criminal Justice)

Overview by Vicki Tien, Research Associate PILPG NL


  • The ICC has faced several challenges relating to victim engagement when dealing with mass atrocity crimes. The Court should find a way to improve victim engagement during proceedings, according to Ms. Lorraine Smith van Lin

  • Mr. Phakiso Mochochoko emphasized the importance of managing victim expectations and educating the general public about the international criminal law processes and reparations.

  • The ICC should come up with a strategy to cooperate with the African Union, according to Mr. Phakiso Mochochoko.

Hosted by the African Network of International Criminal Justice and moderated by Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch, the side event aimed to discuss the role of the ICC in Africa in terms of justice, peace, and security. The main questions to be answered included: what lessons can the ICC learn from Africa after 20 years? Should the ICC adapt and improve its intervention strategy in Africa in the next 20 years? How can the ICC strengthen ties with the African states, the African Union and the civil society in the next 20 years? 

After Ms. Evenson introduced five panelists, Ms. Mama Koite Doumbia, member of the Board for the Trust Fund for Victims spoke first. Following her, Ms. Lorraine Smith van Lin from Redress discussed the key issues around victims and victim engagement with the ICC. As the ICC is moving away from Africa as its primary focus, Ms. Smith van Lin questioned whether or not the ICC still has an interest in ensuring accountability for African victims. And if yes, she asked, what the future of the engagement would look like. Ms. Smith van Lin claimed that a large component of individuals looked to the ICC for hope and the possibility of ensuring accountability, which they were not able to gain at the local level. In reality, however, the Court has faced several challenges relating to victim engagement when dealing with mass atrocity crimes. Ms. Smith van Lin used the Bembacase as an example and she criticized the way the Court dealt with victims as many victims were ‘shocked’ by the lengthy proceedings. Ms. Smith van Lin then moved on to ask another question regarding the possibility of using the evidence collected by the ICC elsewhere outside the Court, such as local courts. Following the question, Ms. Smith van Lin addressed the importance of ensuring reparations for the victims at the domestic levels and called for the support from the international community. 

Dr Dr. Benson Olugbuo, Executive Director of the CLEEN Foundation, spoke next and discussed what the ICC can learn from preliminary examinations in Africa. Dr. Olugbuo first gave a brief background on what the Court has done for preliminary examinations. Then he addressed a policy paper on PE from 2013 and the key point from the paper, according to Dr. Olugbuo, was the policy on engagement (e.g. how the prosecutor should remain independent and neutral). Dr. Olugbuo then moved on to discuss the issue of delay in preliminary examinations and he argued that the process of preliminary examinations is imagined and not crystalized. 

After Ms. Julie Somda, from the Burkina Faso Women Lawyer’s Association provided her insights, Mr.Phakiso Mochochoko, Head of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity, and Cooperation Division at the ICC, focused on victim expectations and the issue of the complementarity. Mr. Mochochoko first stressed that it is essential to manage expectations of victims toward the Court and ensure that victims have realistic expectations of criminal law process and reparations. On the issue of complementarity, Mr. Mochochoko emphasized that the ICC is not a capacity-building institution and that it is not the Court’s mandate to build capacity at domestic level; rather, he believed it should be the responsibility of states to take up such challenges. 

The event was followed by discussion between the panelists and the audience. A question from the audience was raised about the relationship between the Court and the African Union (AU). Mr. Mochochoko responded by suggesting to come up with a strategy to cooperate with the AU, but he also shared his personal view on the matter. He believed the relationship between ICC and the AU is unlikely to improve. At the end of the event, Ms. Smith van Lin reiterated the importance of African victims and called on civil society to send a message to the Court: “African victims matter!”