No Electric Chair at the ICC: Prosecutor Maria & Judge Sebutinde


We got a rare opportunity to visit the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Much talked about in Sri Lanka and oh that famous electric chair. It looked like the security chaps were expecting our group though there were no criminals and politicians among us, only journalists and diplomats. We received a warm welcome and I enjoyed a mint tea at the ICC cafe. Of course the International Criminal Court did not look like the courts in Sri Lanka. It was squeaky clean and nice. I got the opportunity to walk around its museum. Photographs were not allowed. May be the ICC should let people take photos and show what its doing and has done. We also got the opportunity to meet with the amiable Spokesperson of the ICC, Fadi El Abdallah, who definitely knew what he was talking about. He was far more relaxed than any of Sri Lanka’s cabinet spokespersons who usually talk shop all the time, and are full of contradictions. Many questions were fired at him by my African, Ukranian and other colleagues. I remember him saying that he wasn’t sure if the Prosecutor will make a public announcement if an investigation on US crimes in Afghanistan is taken up. However, I entered my own world and looked for the electric chair that Sri Lankan politicians thundered on election platforms. Just couldn’t find even a miniature one.

We got the rare opportunity to observe the proceedings of the ICC from the Public Gallery in comfort. A sound proof heavy glass separated us. The hearing took place at Court Room 1. It was the trial of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo and ally Charles Ble Goude, for crimes against humanity. The Presiding judge was Cuno Tarfusser. We watched the Prosecutor Maria Berdennikova questioning a witness. She told the witness that she would address him as Mr Witness and he nodded in agreement. I would have told her “Come on Maria call me by name” Thankfully I wasn’t there. She took time in questioning him and was extremely polite. It was a nice atmosphere unlike the courts in Sri Lanka, and all the judges and lawyers had no option but be computer savvy. Many documents were shown on computer screens to the witness, judges and to the defence counsel, by the Prosecutor. She asked her witness if he was well rested and sounded very kind. Judge Cuno Tarfusser was very sharp and he did pull up (or lets say made strong observations) the Prosecutor on several occasions. May be she was slow and she did struggle at times. Even the Interpreter was harsh on her and asked her to point out a paragraph she couldn’t find. Maria was bemused but, the interpreter lady found it before the Prosecutor found the para she was referring to. It was surreal. However, anyone would want to go to the ICC than any other court in Sri Lanka, because it is very clean, air conditioned, nice atmosphere, and moreover the prosecutors are decent and kind. That is how its should be.

Later in the evening it was a journey to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the wonderful Peace Palace to meet with Judge Julia Sebutinde of Uganda, only the fourth female judge in its 70 year history, and the first ever black African woman to serve. She sure is on top of the world serving the world’s highest court. It had been a man’s world. In a way it is still. She is a straightforward, honest and no nonsense judge who had a head and a heart to speak candidly. Judge Sebutinde told us she wanted to do something meaningful having lived through three civil wars in Uganda. She nearly lost her life. She had a very strong message to the people who commit crimes against humanity ” I am always with the victims”. One should not mix the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. ICC is an independent body. It got nothing to do with the United Nations and was established only in July 2002, and the ICJ, which is a part of the United Nations, was formed in April 1946. It is where states go to argue among themselves. Sri Lanka is not a party to both the ICC and ICJ. I don’t know if we should say Hurrah or otherwise. I have my doubts the way things happened then and now. Where do ordinary people go for justice and fair play? Why should judges be appointed by the Executive? They should be made totally independent? We need the likes of Justice Julia Sebutinde in Sri Lanka.

I thought in the interest of The Island readers, who may not get a chance to visit the ICC, we should publish the Rules of Decorum at the ICC.

On the premises

Please dress appropriately for a court. Insignia or images that could be considered disruptive or offensive are not allowed. Abusive and inappropriate conduct, including loud noise, is strictly prohibited. Wear your visitors badge visibly and return it at the end of your visit. Audio recording, filming or photographing is prohibited within the court building. Drinking and eating is only allowed in the visitors’ restaurant. Entry under the influence of narcotic substances, including alcohol and use of such substances is not allowed. Smoking is only allowed in designated areas outside of the building. Before going through security, personal belongings can be stored in lockers and must not be left unattended. The court accepts no responsibility for any loss, damage to, or theft of, personal possessions within the court building. All visitors must follow the directions of ICC staff members at all times.

In the Public Gallery of the Courtroom

Coats, bags and all types of electronic devices are not allowed in the Public Gallery. They shall be stored in lockers. Persons under 16 years of age are not allowed in the Public Gallery whilst court is in session, without prior written authorisation of the relevant Chamber. Follow all directions given by the Chamber in relation to the Public Gallery. Visitors must rise at the opening and close of a court session. Reading, talking, pointing or gesturing at anyone seated in the Courtroom is not permitted. During closed sessions, no visitors are allowed in the Pubic Gallery. The above is derived from the Presidential Directive regulating visits to the building of the Court, which can be consulted at the Information Desk. Visitors not abiding by the applicable rules may be subject to measures and sanctions, including expulsion and /or exclusion from the Courts building

Next Week: Blossom Cafe, Hague walk and cold food

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