Eurojust and the Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have today published practical guidelines for civil society organisations on documenting core international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. This will empower as well as support civil society organisations that seek to collect and preserve information to contribute to investigations and prosecutions at the national level or before the ICC. The guidelines aim to assist in fighting impunity and have been drawn up building on the expertise of the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, Eurojust, the Genocide Network, civil society organisations, national prosecutors and international partners.
Eurojust President Mr Ladislav Hamran said:
With the war in Ukraine, peace and justice are under the most severe pressure, and accountability for core international crimes and violations of human rights is more than ever essential for international criminal justice. These guidelines will be a key building block in efforts of authorities and civil society organisations to collect and preserve information and evidence that may become admissible in court. With this joint effort of Eurojust and the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC we provide practical assistance to get justice done.
Mr Karim A.A. Khan KC, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, stated:
Civil society organisations are critical partners in our common goal to achieve accountability for international crimes. Now more than ever we must work together to strengthen our common work towards justice. Through this publication, we also seek to highlight how we can work together more effectively to protect the most vulnerable when engaging in documentation efforts. This is particularly important in situations involving crimes against children or victims of sexual abuse. It is my hope this document can serve as a basis for deepening this dialogue together.
This publication responds to requests from many different organisations asking for clearer guidance on effective documentation approaches that can be supportive to action before national and international courts. Importantly, these guidelines seek to protect the most vulnerable when engaging in documentation efforts. They emphasise in particular the importance of ensuring persons are not interviewed several times. This can not only affect their safety and well-being, but also compromise their willingness to contribute to accountability processes by sharing their testimonies. In line with this goal, the guidelines contain advice on key areas, including:
- approaching vulnerable persons,
- taking a person’s account, photographs and videos,
- dealing with documents, digital information and physical items,
- and storing, safeguarding and analysing collected information.
To assist their use in the field, the guidelines also contain a checklist setting out the core principles and practical steps that can be followed.
Building on extensive good practice tools developed by civil society organisations in the past, the guidelines are intended to be a living tool to be further developed as collective experience grows over time. Civil society organisations who wish to use these guidelines as part of their documentation practices are invited to share their further input and questions in order to develop a continual two-way dialogue that will ultimately strengthen our collective work.
Reflecting this intention, an online technical briefing for civil society organisations will be held on 6 October 2022, to be followed by a broader dissemination campaign in the coming months. The guidelines will also be used as a framework for discussion of dedicated sessions of the upcoming first session of ICC-OTP NGO Thematic Roundtable, addressing the issue of crimes against children.
Eurojust and the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC have accelerated their cooperation in recent months, strengthening their common work in analysing and supporting investigations into core international crimes.
In March of this year, Eurojust assisted Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine with the setting up of a joint investigation team (JIT) into core international crimes allegedly committed in Ukraine. The Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC signed an agreement in April to participate in this JIT, marking it the first time ever they have joined a Eurojust supported joint investigation team. In May, Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia joined the JIT as well. In May, the European legislators approved a fast-track procedure to adapt the Eurojust Regulation, in order for the Agency to be able to store and share evidence of alleged core international crimes committed in Ukraine.
In May this year, Prosecutor Khan announced a new initiative to further strengthen the role of civil society in the work of the Office of the Prosecutor. This includes a series of measures including: (i.) the hosting of two thematic roundtables with non-governmental organisations each year; (ii) the development and publication of guidance materials for civil society organisations; and (iii) the introduction of a new programme for engagement with national non-governmental and local community based organisations in the work of the Office.
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