By Sophie van Leeuwen and Selay Marius Kouassi
A French diplomat wants to become a judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC). But is a former member of the French government independent enough for this crucial position?
Behind the scenes, the French candidate has been criticized, anonymous sources tell Justice Hub. Judges have to be impartial, they say, adding that Marc Perrin de Brichambaut would not be the best person to represent an independent court.
Seventeen people want to become judge at the ICC. Six of them will be elected during the Assembly of States Parties (8-17 December). The states members of the Hague-based court will vote today and tomorrow during the ASP in New York.
Perrin de Brichambaut served as a senior official under former French president François Mitterand. He worked for the foreign ministry and for the defence ministry during the first Ivorian civil war, which started in 2002.
Further, Perrin de Brichambaut represented the French government during the Rome conference in 1998, when the ICC Rome Statute was adopted. As you can read in the official records below, he defended the influence of the UN Security Council in court procedures. France is one out of five permanent Security Council members.
Perrin de Brichambaut was also a senior official under former French presidents François Mitterand and Jacques Chirac. He worked amongst others for the defence ministry in 2004, during the Franco-Ivorian clashes. During this conflict, France bombed almost the entire Ivorian air force.
“The French government is a stakeholder in one ICC case: the trial against the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo”, says Abraham Denis Yaurobat, President of APDH (Actions pour la Protection des Droits de l’Homme), an Ivorian NGO.
“His history, especially his connections with the French power, make him suspicious. If he is accepted as an ICC judge, his past could prevent him from acting independently”, Yaurobat argues.
“Marc Perrin de Brichambaut is a ferm defender of French interests”, adds Ivorian lawyer Fernand Julien Gauze, the president of ADJL-CO (Agir pour la Démocratie, la Justice et les Libertés en Côte d’Ivoire). He’s a member of the elite. Of course he will be serving the interests of his country at the ICC.”
Can an ICC judge be that close to the French government and remain impartial? Easy criticism, says Aaron Matta, a senior researcher at The Hague Institute of Global Justice, who previously worked at the ICC. “We know where the candidate Judges have worked before. Their CVs are public.”
“But I’m not naive”, Matta adds. “I know how the world of international justice works. If you follow the cases, there is increasing evidence that judges make decisions in favour of their own country. This happened with the International Court of Justice and it’s one of the reasons the ICJ has deteriorated”, according to the Chicago Professor of Law Eric Posner.
“The ICC does not want to make the same mistake. But again, we should not be naive”, Matta argues. “States do whatever they can to influence decisions. At the ASP, states support other states behind the curtains.” Like the Eurovision Song Contest? “It’s pretty much like that.”
Professor Eric Posner: “It’s possible to be concerned that if a high-level diplomat is appointed to the ICC, it will be seen either as an effort to influence the court or as a patronage appointment. It damages the court’s credibility. But an argument could be made that diplomatic skills would be valuable for the ICC.”
According to the French Embassy to The Netherlands, Perrin de Brichambaut, as a member of France’s supreme administrative court, is of high moral character. He is known for his impartiality and integrity.