The Field Presence of the ICC

The work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) can have a fundamental, irreversible – and positive – impact on the countries where it operates. The ICC has significant potential to prevent the escalation of violence, by sending the message that violence committed against civilians by political or military leaders will not be cost-free. The involvement of the ICC raises the hope of redress for thousands of victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, if nothing else by reducing the political influence of those who are alleged to bear the greatest responsibility for those crimes. The ICC’s very existence can also empower those who seek within their own country a future based on accountability and the rule of law, by requiring national judicial responses, with the explicit threat that if those responses are not adequate, the ICC will intervene. Simply by signaling an interest in a situation where violence is or may be developing, the ICC creates a threat of prosecution and reduces the incentive to use violence as a means to gain power.
That threat, however, is only as effective as the ICC’s real impact in the situations where it becomes involved. In each of those situations to date, the Court’s impact in ensuring justice and combating impunity has not yet reached its full potential. The ICC has made great strides in its early years but continues to face many challenges in fulfilling its mandate, including in particular: the need to conduct thorough investigations in several countries simultaneously; to protect witnesses, victims and intermediaries; to uphold the rights of victims under the Rome Statute; to ensure State cooperation; and to promote and monitor national proceedings in accordance with the principle of complementarity. Broadly speaking, the Court still struggles to establish its relevance for victims, affected communities and the public in situation countries. The ICC also needs to begin elaborating its vision for what it intends to accomplish in any given country, what legacy it will leave, how it will assure that legacy and what resources it will need to do so.
No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) has consistently advocated for the ICC to become closer to the victims, communities and other stakeholders affected by its work in situation countries. In its early years, the ICC has developed as a headquarters-based institution, located in The Hague, while to date all of its ongoing situations are in Africa. Its presence in each of these countries is currently minimal, leading to difficulties in carrying out day-to-day operations and in maintaining meaningful interaction with victims, communities, the public and other stakeholders. The low level of field presence also prevents them from contributing significantly to the long-term impact of the Court in situation countries.[i] In view of this situation, NPWJ has stressed that both the ICC’s judicial and non-judicial functions and its long-term legacy would be improved by maintaining a stronger permanent presence and representation in situation countries.
The current configuration of the Court, where 85.6% of personnel are allocated to headquarters and only 14.4 % to situation countries,[ii] is largely a result of an initial lack of appreciation of the fundamental importance of an in-country presence to ensuring the effectiveness of the ICC’s work in situation countries. Field operations have been seen as resource-intensive, and with both States and the Court operating within tight budgetary restrictions, field presence has been kept to a bare minimum. However, with the ICC now in its sixth year of operations in its oldest situation countries, trials underway in relation to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR) and a risk of paralysis in Uganda due to the non-execution of arrest warrants, there is a growing realisation of the need to assess the real impact of the Court in its situation countries. This project will contribute to ensuring a positive impact and legacy, by building support for a stronger presence and representation by the ICC in its situation countries.
NPWJ’s objectives
The overall goal of this project is to enhance the impact of the ICC in its situation countries by strengthening its presence in those countries. As outlined above, NPWJ believes that the functioning of the Court in all respects would be enhanced by a stronger field presence. The long-term goal of this project is therefore to see the ICC invest a larger proportion of resources in the countries where it operates (and, conversely, a smaller proportion at headquarters) and to ensure that field-based staff play a more effective role in building the Court’s legacy in situation countries. Given the practical implications of this kind of re-configuration in terms of both human and financial resources, such changes will take time to implement. Thus there are a number of more short-term objectives that can contribute to moving toward the broader goal.
1. Increased awareness among ICC States Parties of the need to strengthen field presence
In order to provide ICC States Parties with a stronger understanding and appreciation of the necessity of strengthening the Court’s field presence, NPWJ seeks to create avenues of engagement between ICC States Parties and victims, affected communities and other stakeholders in situation countries. This highlights the challenges the Court faces and the vital importance of functions such as outreach; victims’ participation; and the Trust Fund for Victims, which are currently not given high priority by many States Parties.
2. Strengthened strategic planning on the ICC’s presence in situation countries
NPWJ engages in advocacy to encourage all organs of the ICC to engage in a coordinated process of strategic planning that re-conceptualises the relationship between the Court and situation countries and envisages specific institutional changes that will strengthen field offices.
3. Enhanced awareness of the ICC in situation countries
NPWJ undertakes activities to strengthen the impact of the ICC in its situation countries by increasing awareness of the Court among the stakeholders most affected by its work, including victims of crimes under its jurisdiction; communities more broadly affected by those crimes; civil society involved in the fight against impunity; and national and local authorities. NPWJ spreads understanding of the Court through outreach activities, including interaction and dialogue between ASP delegates and a range of stakeholders in situation countries, working in collaboration with the Public Information Section (including Outreach) of the ICC.
In recent years, NPWJ has engaged with all of the most influential actors in determining ICC policy and direction – Court officials, States Parties’ delegates and the Committee on Budget and Finance – to promote support for a strengthened field presence and to determine effective and feasible ways forward. A major initiative in this regard was the program of visits for ICC States Parties delegates to Uganda between January and June 2010, which brought to Uganda a total of 28 delegates representing 23 different States Parties. The delegates who took part are all working on ICC issues within their governments, mostly as members of their delegation to the ASP, and the visits fostered their greater understanding of the realities on the ground in situation countries and the need for stronger and more effective ICC presence there.
NPWJ continues to build on its past activities to strengthen the impact of the ICC in its situation countries by identifying and advocating for changes toward a more field-based institution. In particular, in order to build further support among ICC States Parties for a stronger field presence, NPWJ will continue to offer State delegates the opportunity to travel to ICC situation countries to gain first-hand insight into the impact of the Court in those countries. During 2011-12, NPWJ plans to carry out at least three visits, the first in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the other two in Kenya and/or DRC.[iii] The visits also serve to expand understanding of the ICC in the country by placing a range of stakeholders in direct contact with ICC State Party delegates and by creating opportunities for outreach and public and media engagement.
NPWJ will also continue to conduct in-depth research on the of the ICC’s field presence, the impact of the Court on the ground in its situation countries, what legacy the ICC will leave in those countries and how that legacy can be assured. As in the past, the research will include consultation with ICC officials, States Parties, civil society, and other institutions and organisations that maintain a field presence, with a view to identifying constructive recommendations for both short and long term institutional change.
NPWJ also conducts advocacy on an ongoing with States Parties and the ICC to ensure continued support for the strengthening of the Court’s impact. NPWJ will also look to maintain a two-way dialogue between the ASP and the Court on one hand, and victims, communities and civil society in situation countries, through civil society partners in Uganda, Kenya and DRC.

Related activities:


[i] NPWJ International Criminal Justice Policy Series No. 3, The International Criminal Court’s Field Presence ,November 2009, available at

[ii] Figures as of 1 February 2010, Report on the review of field operations, ICC-ASP/9/12, 30 July 2010, available at:

[iii] Visits to Kenya will take place provided the security situation and political environment are deemed to be conducive.