The ICC’s budget – moving to the grand finale?

Every year since moving to The Hague I have written a new piece about the lack of money available to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has been rather depressing, actually.

As budgetary needs have increased – the Court now has active cases in seven countries: Kenya, Libya, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Mali – the court’s sponsor, the Assembly of States Parties, has been relentless in trying to reign in spending.

In part, the timing of the ICC’s expanding workload was unfortunate, coinciding as it did with the meltdown of the financial markets.

But the opaque and sometimes incompetent way in which the ICC has often been run must also be to blame.

I have just finished my annual installment of the budget saga, which you can read here. Researching it, I had endless background conversations with member states – unfortunately only the British would go on record – and the distrust towards the court was still palpable (though things have improved markedly since the low years of 2010/2011).

The thing is that the ICC, in particularly the prosecutorial services, badly does need some more cash if it is to succeed in the work it has set out to do.

Thank God, therefore, for the arrival of the new Registrar, Herman von Hebel, who served as Registrar at both the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Special Court for Lebanon. When I met him in his office – the same one where, four years ago, I had my first meeting at the ICC, with then-Registrar Silvana Arbia – it was hard not to warm to him.

Out of courtesy, I gave him the option of having the conversation on the record or off, with subsequent quote approvals. Without hesitation, he gave me the go-ahead to have it fully on-the-record. As one ASP source subsequently remarked, “This shows that he has the confidence to speak freely.”

And he is a very good communicator, and he seems to get the courts problems many than many others I have spoken to within the ICC. He knows that he has to increase the transparency and openness of the court, because that will boost confidence and hopefully loosen the purse strings of the ASP a little.

Words, of course, are one thing; actions quite another. And it will be interesting to see whether, for all his self-assurance and determination, he can actually prise open an institution that, to a fairly large degree, regards itself as primarily judicial and therefore unanswerable to the probing questions of us journalists.

The article that I hope I can write next year, if I am still here, is: there have been some really impressive changes at the ICC, so why are member states still not living up to their responsibilities by giving it the financial backing it so desperately needs?

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