International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)

What is the International Commission of Jurists?

The ICJ is an international non-governmental organisation which promotes human rights and the rule of law. Its membership consists of sixty eminent jurists from around the world. Its new President is Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of the Republic of Ireland. The ICJ has an International Secretariat based in Geneva, which has smaller regional offices in South Africa, Thailand, Nepal and Central America.

In addition to Mary Robinson, other notable ICJ Commissioners include Justice Unity Dow, the first female High Court judge of Botswana and a noted novelist; Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Gustavo Gallón Giraldo, ad hoc judge of the Constitutional Court of Colombia; and Karinna Moskalenko, the well-known Russian lawyer. Before Mary Robinson became ICJ President in 2008, the President was Arthur Chaskalson, formerly Chief Justice of South Africa and President of the ground-breaking South African Constitutional Court.

What is JUSTICE’s relationship to the ICJ?

JUSTICE is the UK section of the ICJ. The ICJ has a network of national sections in different countries around the world, as well as affiliated organisations in others. National sections differ in size and structure – JUSTICE is one of the larger national sections, with seven full time staff and a membership of around 1500. In some states the national sections do not have staff and rely entirely upon pro bono work of judges, lawyers, interns and others to keep the section running. Affiliated organisations are pre-existing organisations working to protect human rights and the rule of law in their own countries who have chosen to become affiliated to the ICJ network for mutual benefit. For example, in Japan the affiliated organisation is the Japan Civil Liberties Union; and in Zambia it is the Law Association of Zambia.

JUSTICE shares the aims and values of the ICJ, and sometimes works on projects, third party interventions and conferences with the International Secretariat. JUSTICE’s Council and staff are, however, independent and we determine our own policies and activities.

What have been the ICJ’s main achievements?

Since its foundation in 1952 the ICJ has done much to further the cause of human rights at a national and international level. In the 1960s it lobbied for the appointment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and for protocols to the Geneva Conventions improving humanitarian law. In the 1970s it contributed to the development of the UN Convention Against Torture and its Optional Protocol, and to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. In the 1980s it submitted a then draft European Convention for the Prevention of Torture to the Council of Europe, and gathered together a group of experts to develop the Limburg Principles on economic, social and cultural rights. In the 1990s the ICJ was influential in the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and in the international movement to set up the International Criminal Court.

What has the ICJ done more recently?

JUSTICE staff have in recent years attended two World Conferences of the ICJ; in Berlin in 2004 the Conference adopted the ICJ Declaration on Upholding Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Combating Terrorism. The most recent conference, held in 2008 in Geneva, developed the ICJ Declaration and Plan of Action on Upholding the Rule of Law and the Role of Judges and Lawyers in Times of Crisis. These ‘soft law’ documents, together with their Commentaries, are extremely useful in expanding upon the human rights obligations of states in circumstances of particular relevance to our times.

The ICJ has also established an expert Eminent Jurists Panels to examine Terrorism, Counter Terrorism and Human Rights (EJP), and an Expert Legal Panel on Corporate Complicity in International Crimes (ELP). The EJP travelled to many jurisdictions, including the UK, to hear evidence on the impact of counter-terrorism measures on human rights, and is due to publish its final report and recommendations in 2009. The ELP has now published its final report, developing the legal and public policy meaning of corporate complicity in international crimes.

Where can I find out more?

International Commission of Jurists website

Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief

Observer interview with Unity Dow

European Convention for the Prevention of Torture