Promoting implementation of the principle of complementarity

The Rome ICC Statute is founded on complementarity: the ICC can only act where States are unwilling or unable genuinely to investigate and prosecute crimes under its jurisdiction. The basis of this principle is that those crimes should be addressed at a national level wherever possible, with the ICC acting as a catalyst, as a guardian and as a last resort.  
Widespread or systematic violations of international criminal law generally occur as part of a plan or policy to commit such crimes, so when the time comes to address these crimes, there will be a wide pool of potential defendants and a wide number and variety of crimes that could be tried. While there must be criminal accountability for crimes under international law to satisfy the principles of the rule of law and the demands of justice, this does not mean that all persons who allegedly commit such crimes should be prosecuted in an international criminal jurisdiction, nor does not necessarily mean that all alleged perpetrators should face prosecution in a court of law. For example, there are compelling reasons for addressing crimes allegedly committed by children under the age of 18 through other means.  
Now that the ICC has been operational for several years and has begun formal investigations in numerous “situations”, it is increasingly important to assess and give support to the practical operation of the principle of complementarity and how the ICC is achieving its goals to bring an end to impunity, help re-establish the rule of law, provide justice for victims and protect vulnerable groups from abuse. Within this context, both the willingness and the ability of governments to address violations of international humanitarian law at the domestic level must be addressed. NPWJ’s international criminal justice program promotes both the willingness and the ability of States to implement complementarity, through advocacy and technical support, currently focusing areas:

  • Non judicial accountability mechanisms
    Non-judicial, quasi-judicial and neo-traditional accountability mechanisms can play an important role in conflict, post-conflict and transition countries. They must be designed to meet the unique requirements of the situation they are intended to address, to respond to the needs of the affected population and to contribute to the promotion of the rule of law. NPWJ’s aims to strengthen the effectiveness of national accountability mechanisms in narrowing the impunity gap, thus contributing to the implementation of complementarity.
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  • Conflict Mapping
    Conflict Mapping aims to reconstruct the chain of events during a conflict through gathering information in the field. Conflict mapping allows for the analysis of decision-making processes to ascertain the role of those who bear the greatest responsibility for the conduct of armed forces and groups in conflict, and in particular for policies of systematic and massive violations of the laws of war. NPWJ carries out conflict mapping programs and undertakes capacity-building of local actors to implement such programs themselves, thus contributing to their ability to contribute to the implementation of complementarity.
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  • ICC field presence
    NPWJ aims to strengthen the work of the International Criminal Court itself in promoting complementarity in its situation countries, by strengthening domestic political commitment to justice and undertaking activities (within its limited capacity) to increase the capacity of national authorities.
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  • Outreach
    NPWJ believes that the implementation of the principle of complementarity depends on achieving an awareness of the ICC among the stakeholders in the Court’s work, including in particular the people affected by the conflicts under investigation by the ICC. NPWJ therefore undertakes activities to support the ICC’s outreach and public information strategies, to boost the level of understanding and acceptance of international criminal justice among various constituencies, including States, Parliaments, civil society and people directly affected by its work. Similarly, NPWJ aims to build the capacity of local actors, both State and civil society, to undertake outreach on international and transitional justice issues.
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Related activities: