With renewed international support, the International Criminal Court can reduce war crimes and help usher in a more accountable world order, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Kathryn Sikkink and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Assistant Professor Patrick Vinck say.
Featuring Kathryn Sikkink and Patrick Vinck
April 18, 2022
40 minutes and 04 seconds
A mass grave behind a church. Bodies of children and families buried under the rubble of a theater where they had been seeking refuge. Streets littered with bodies of civilians who were shot with their hands tied behind their backs. Almost every day, the headlines bring news of new violations of the rules of war and international human rights norms in Ukraine, including attacks on hospitals, schools, residential buildings and even water facilities by the Russian military. Those revelations have also launched daily accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and demands for international investigations and prosecutions. Now a group of Harvard professors says that the war in Ukraine could also be a watershed moment for the evolving notion of meaningful international justice.
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Kathryn Sikkink and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Assistant Professor Patrick Vinck say it is time for the countries of the world to invest both their geopolitical and financial capital in the International Criminal Court. Located in The Hague, Netherlands, the ICC was established 20 years ago as the world’s first permanent international criminal court to pursuing prosecutions war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and, most recently, a new violation called the crime of aggression.
Kathryn Sikkink has been researching the nexus of human rights and international justice since she first witnessed the Trial of the Juntas in Argentina as a PhD student in the mid-1980s. Patrick Vinck is the Research Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and, with his partner and spouse Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Assistant Professor Phong Pham, a pioneer in the field of data collection from conflict zones. In this PolicyCast conversation, Sikkink and Vinck say while there have been legitimate criticisms of the ICC for being ineffective or for focusing too much on certain regions such as Africa, critics are missing the bigger picture—and the remarkable story of how much traction the notion of international humanitarian justice has gained since the end of World War II. And even if Vladimir Putin never sees the inside of a courtroom, they say research shows that the mere act of identifying war crimes and pursuing prosecutions, can lower the rate at which those crimes occur.
Kathryn Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Sikkink works on international norms and institutions, transnational advocacy networks, the impact of human rights law and policies, and transitional justice (an approach to systematic or massive violations of human rights that provides redress to victims and creates opportunities for the transformation of the political systems). Her books include “The Hidden Face of Rights: Toward a Politics of Responsibilies,” “Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century,” and “The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions are Changing World Politics (awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Center Book Award). She is a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves on the editorial board of the American Political Science Review. She holds both an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University and has been a Guggenheim fellow and a Fulbright Scholar in Argentina.
Patrick Vinck is Research Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Department of Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School. With his partner and spouse, Harvard Medical School Assistant Professor Phuong Pham, Vinck leads a team conducting research on resilience, peacebuilding, and social cohesion in contexts of mass violence, conflicts and natural disasters, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, UNDP, and UNICEF, among others. He is also the co-founder and director of KoBoToolbox, a digital data collection platform used worldwide in conflict and crisis zones, and the Data-Pop Alliance, a big data partnership with MIT and the Overseas Development Initiative. Vinck serves as a regular advisor and evaluation consultant to the United Nations and other agencies, and has served on the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He holds a degree in engineering in applied biological sciences from Gembloux Agricultural University (Belgium) and a Ph.D. in International Development from Tulane University.
Ralph Ranalli of the HKS Office of Public Affairs and Communications is the host, producer, and editor of HKS PolicyCast. A former journalist, public television producer, and entrepreneur, he holds an A.B. in Political Science from UCLA and an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University.
The co-producer of PolicyCast is Susan Hughes. Design and graphics support is provided by Lydia Rosenberg, Delane Meadows, and the OCPA Design Team. Social media promotion and support is provided by Natalie Montaner and the OCPA Digital Team.
For more information please visit our webpage or contact us at PolicyCast@hks.harvard.edu.
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Kathryn Sikkink (Intro): I think we're going to look back and see this as an inflection point, where it became clear that the whole world was watching, in real time, as war crimes were being committed, that it became clear that that is an unacceptable practice for which individuals will be deeply discredited, if not imprisoned. And this may change the way we think in the future about war and about accountability.
Patrick Vinck (Intro): It's not like we should rejoice at this, but it's an opportunity for the court to show its relevance, to show its importance in terms of contributing to deterring from these type of violence, from helping rebuild and build and think about a more accountable world.
Ralph Ranalli (Intro): Welcome to the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast. I’m your host, Ralph Ranalli. A mass grave behind a church. Bodies of children and families buried under the rubble of a theater where they had been seeking refuge. Streets littered with bodies of civilians who were shot with their hands tied behind their backs. Almost every day, the headlines bring news of new violations of the rules of war and international human rights norms in Ukraine, including attacks on hospitals, schools, residential buildings, and even water facilities by the Russian army. Those revelations have also launched daily accusations against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military of war crimes and genocide, and referrals for international investigations and prosecutions. Now a group of Harvard Professors says that the war in Ukraine could be a watershed moment for the evolving notion of meaningful international justice.
In a recent Op-Ed, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Kathryn Sikkink and Harvard Chan School of Public Health faculty members Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham, say it is time for the countries of the world to invest both their geopolitical and financial capital in the International Criminal Court. Located in the Hague in the Netherlands, the ICC was established 20 years ago as the world’s first permanent international criminal court to pursuing prosecutions war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and, most recently, a new violation called the crime of aggression.
Kathryn Sikkink has been researching the nexus of human rights and international justice since she first witnessed the Trial of the Juntas in Argentina as a PhD student in the mid-1980s. Patrick Vinck is the Research Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and, with his partner and spouse Phong Pham, a pioneer in the field of data collection from conflict zones. Sikkink and Vinck say while there have been legitimate criticisms of the ICC for being ineffective or for focusing too much on certain regions such as Africa, critics are missing the bigger picture—and the remarkable story of how much traction the notion of international humanitarian justice has gained since the end of World War II. And they say even if Vladimir Putin never sees the inside of a courtroom, their research shows that the mere act of identifying war crimes and pursuing prosecutions, can lower the rate at which those crimes occur. They’re here with me today.
Ralph Ranalli: Kathryn and Patrick, welcome to PolicyCast.
Kathryn Sikkink: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
Patrick Vinck: Thank you for having us.
Ralph Ranalli: In Ukraine, we’ve had reports of a mass grave and civilian executions in Bucha, followed by a steady stream of reports of civilians and residential areas being targeted in other parts of the country. The International Criminal Court was already investigating charges of Russian war crimes in its 2008 invasion of Georgia, and it’s now opened an investigation for alleged international crimes committed in Ukraine a month ago both during the period in late 2013 and early 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, and during the current conflict. Now, you've both co-authored an op-ed saying this is the first investigation by the International Criminal Court, also know as the ICC, for serious crimes committed in Europe. You also say the ICC is well positioned to become the vehicle for bringing accountability for serious war crimes and deterring further violence during the war in Ukraine, and possibly beyond, in the international context.
But before we talk about that, I think it's probably best to start with some definitions, because this is a complex system with many players, anytime you get into the world of legality. So you're talking about the International Criminal Court, but you also have the International Court of Justice. And then over the years we've had what have been called international criminal tribunals for alleged crimes in countries like the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Can you talk about, really quickly, the definitions of the differences between those bodies? Kathryn, maybe if you want to take this one.
Kathryn Sikkink: The first big distinction to make is between courts that are state-to-state courts. They hold states accountable, but they don't hold individuals criminally accountable. The International Court of Justice, for example, is a state-to-state court. And the International Criminal Court, as its name says, involves criminal justice, where individual state officials are being held accountable for crimes that are committed. The ICC is the first permanent international criminal court, so it's completely unprecedented. Prior to the ICC, however, there were so-called ad hoc international tribunals, or sometimes there were so-called hybrid international tribunals, and these were tribunals set up to deal with international crimes in individual countries. And the one that we focus the most on in the op-ed is the Ad Hoc International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, since it demonstrated that it's possible to hold, successfully hold, individuals criminally accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in European territory.
Ralph Ranalli: Patrick, whenever you're talking about legal systems, there’s going to be a lot of complexity. And there has been some consternation over President Biden using words like genocide to describe Russian conduct in Ukraine, and calling President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, because those words actually have very specific definitions and legal consequences. There are four crimes that the ICC has jurisdiction: war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and the crime of aggression, which is the one that may most apply to Putin. Can you walk us through the different definitions of those crimes?
Patrick Vinck: Sure. And before that, maybe building on what Kathryn was saying, I think it's important to remember that beyond the International Criminal Court, the responsibility, the role of holding perpetrators accountable for their acts, belongs to national courts. But of course, in Ukraine at the moment, it is very difficult to think of ongoing investigation and prosecution of criminals for acts perpetrated during this conflict. Now, what's important is that the ICC, the International Criminal Court, they focus indeed on those most serious crimes. But they all have a common focus as a starting point, which is that it's around the protection of civilians.
Now, war crimes are really kind of individual acts, maybe individual soldiers that commit acts against civilians that are just simply not acceptable, killing of course, but also sexual violence, other forms of violence targeted at civilians. What crimes against humanity add to this is an element of widespread policy. Really, of enabling these types of crimes being committed, so now it becomes part of a policy and a widespread aspect of the conflict. And then when you talk of genocide, you add an element beyond those crimes which is the intentional goal of eliminating a group based on their religious belief, based on their ethnicity, but really an effort, a systematic effort, to eliminate an entire group. So those are extremely serious crimes, of course. And then more recently the idea of the crime of aggression was more recognized and considered, which is of course when a state aggresses another, so the definition is quite obvious. But what's important here is we need to investigate. We need to know exactly what has happened. What was the chain of command? Who perpetrated those acts? And so, at the moment, it's important to focus, not maybe just on the most responsible, but really to be quite comprehensive in the examination of the crimes that have been committed, not only to hold them accountable, but also hopefully to deter actors from continuing committing those forms of violence.
Ralph Ranalli: Given all those different bodies and crimes, why are you singling out the ICC as the best hope for, what you’re calling a new era of greater accountability in terms of international conduct?
Kathryn Sikkink: First, because as we've said, the ICC clearly has jurisdiction in this case, and they clearly have jurisdiction because Ukraine itself, using a provision in the Rome statute that set up the ICC, referred its case, and because the ICC calls for territorial jurisdiction. Any crime, including by a foreign invaders, committed on the territory of Ukraine are now within the jurisdiction of the ICC. Also, Ukraine referred its case quite a while ago, and now 39 states parties of the ICC have referred the case again to the ICC. That's an unprecedented number. We've never seen that—39 states joining together to refer a case. So the court was already poised, already had Ukraine under preliminary examination, and it did not need to go through any additional legal hoops within the court to start working immediately. And so they were able to get people quickly on the ground.
Ralph Ranalli: What role do the recent revelations about what appear to be atrocities in places like Bucha play in this?
Kathryn Sikkink: What's happened is actually a very unusual, very painful, but important thing for the court. And that is, as the Russian forces pulled out of the Kyiv area, they left behind all sorts of evidence of what looks like war crimes and perhaps crimes against humanity. It's unusual that the Ukrainian forces, but also journalists and also ICC investigators will get immediate access to what looks like a crime scene, a war crime scene, and that will be important for prosecution.
Ralph Ranalli: Right. A lot of times there's a fairly substantial effort to cover up those kind of crimes. And here the Russians seem to have pulled out rather quickly and just left it all there. Patrick, why do you think this is an important moment for the International Criminal Court?
Patrick Vinck: The International Criminal Court is this so-called court of last resort. So again, the primary duty, the primary responsibility for investigating those war crimes is on the national judicial system, but it doesn't always have the ability or the willingness to do so, but in this case, of course, I think it's part capacity, but also a larger effort to hold perpetrators accountable for the violence. We've seen other mechanisms established elsewhere, those so-called hybrid mechanism that are within national systems, but with major international involvement and support to make sure that they function and hold perpetrators accountable. But those take time to establish and those are creating new institutions, so here we have a mechanism that is established.
However, the International Criminal Court has been the subject of criticism. It's been criticized for being a very Western court going only after African perpetrators of violence. It's been criticized for targeting only a few people responsible for crimes and violence and not necessarily always going after the most responsible, though sometimes they do. So it's really an opportunity in some ways, it's not like we should rejoice at this, but it's an opportunity to show, for the court to show its relevance, to show its importance in terms of contributing to deterring from these type of violence, from helping rebuild and build and think about a more accountable world.
Kathryn Sikkink: And I was going to say that one added point to that issue, the court showing and its relevance, is we've seen recently that the US Congress for the first time has really recognized the relevance of the ICC in this case. So the US government and the US Congress particularly has been very hostile to the court in the past. There was a 2002 piece of legislation that was nicknamed the Invade the Hague Act. And now we see two weeks ago that the Congress passed a unanimous sense of Congress resolution calling on the United States to step forward and support the Ukrainian case before the ICC. So that shows a shift, a real shift in the US position and its recognition that the ICC could really play a crucial role.
First, I would say that these prosecutions are quite complementary to some of the other work that's going on. And so we're not trying to call attention to additional mechanisms that can be used to hold Russia accountable. I also want to mention that we're basing our recommendations here on research, research that we ourselves have done and research that colleagues have done. Patrick and I have been part of a research team. We're funded by, right now, by the Canadian government called Global Affairs Canada, to continue to build a database on human rights and transitional justice mechanisms around the world, including human rights prosecution, including international human rights prosecution.
Ralph Ranalli: Thanks for bringing that up because it was the research that I wanted to turn to next, because obviously, with any policy and any policy argument, having the research to back it up is absolutely crucial. Can you walk me through a bit of the history of this research and what the findings have been so far?
Kathryn Sikkink: I'm going to get us started, and then I'm going to have Patrick take over because our research project looks at both macro level data, at the level of states and national system, and micro level data, and that is what victims and survivors want and think about justice. I'm working more on the macro side. Patrick has been working more on the micro side. On the macro side, we found that countries around the world that use human rights prosecutions see improvements in human rights. And so we think, we believe, that these prosecutors are associated with improvements in human rights. And we hypothesize the mechanism is deterrence. I should say that that finding has been supported by a colleague Beth Simmons and Hyeran Jo looks specifically at the International Criminal Court. And they have also found that when the International Criminal Court opens investigations, when countries ratify the Rome Statute, when they change their criminal code, that those countries see a decline in deaths of civilians in war time. So the Simmons and Jo research is directly related to the topic that we're thinking about right now in Ukraine, and suggests that there could be a deterrent effect, maybe even in real time. But let me turn it over to Patrick to talk about his research.
Patrick Vinck: Well, actually before, I can build a little bit on the micro level research, what Kathryn has been working on, and maybe tie it very quickly to that question of the sanctions. Because there's a lot of debates on the effectiveness of sanctions, but the main goal of the sanctions is to pressure parties into negotiation and in changing behavior. Which is a useful goal of course, but with accountability, it's also about setting precedence. It's about deterring further future violence. And I would also tie it with a form of responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable and say, this is not acceptable. Now, there was something called the responsibility to protect, this idea that the world had a responsibility to protect civilians and the reality is that from Syria to Libya, to now Ukraine, we've seen really the failure of the world to actually do that, to concretely be able to protect civilians. So the very least we do is ensure that there is this responsibility to hold perpetrators of those forms of violence accountable for what they have had. And so in that sense, it's quite a separate distance from sanctions, but they certainly can act in a somewhat complementary manner. Now, Kathryn highlights how at least we have a global level evidence that accountability contributes in important ways to reduce the likelihood of a human rights violation.
What my colleague and I have been working on is much more at the micro level and people's perspective and opinions and what they see as a priority, for example. And what we find consistently is that people want to understand what happened, why it happened, who is responsible, and by and large, they want to see them held accountable, maybe with some different ideas of how it needs to happen, but they do want to understand that process. And so the ICC is important because it can contribute to that effort, but it's not enough. So the ICC will always only establish part of the truth, part of what has happened, and so it also needs to be part of a broader effort at documenting, at telling the story, memorializing what has happened. And so this time is important in terms of gathering evidence, collaborating. Last point I will make is that the support for the courts, the support for the ICC, cannot be limited to some political statements but there is a need to fund the courts. There's a need to collaborate on gathering evidence. There's a need to facilitate the execution of arrest warrants. So there's many ways in which states will be able to contribute to the effort around accountability. And maybe later I can talk a little more about our engagement with civilians in situations of conflict.
Ralph Ranalli: Right. I would love to about that now, because I don’t think people don't realize how difficult the process is to gather data on war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. People have to go out to conflict zones and potentially put themselves in harm's way and talk to people who have been in those conflict zones. Kathryn, I know you've been working on this for a considerable amount of time, going back to the time when you were a PhD student and you sat in on the trial of the Juntas in Buenos Aires in 1985, which was one of the first human rights prosecutions since the Nuremberg trials. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience, Kathryn? About how it led you to start documenting to bring accountability for human rights violations?
Kathryn Sikkink: Yes. What most people don't realize, or for example, what my students at the Kennedy school often don't realize is how recent this trend for individual criminal accountability for human rights violations is. Of course we had the Nuremberg tribunals, but then there were no prosecutions for decades after that. And the prosecutions started again, actually, in domestic courts as Patrick was saying. In Argentina, the trials of the Juntas in 1985 were among the first of those domestic trials where domestic courts in these countries held their own state of officials accountable for mass human rights violations that happened during, in this case, the previous dictatorship. And so, yeah, I was there 1985. I was able to observe these historic trials. The assistant prosecutor of these trials was Luis Moreno Ocampo, who was later tapped by the ICC to be the first prosecutor when the ICC opened its doors in 2003. And the reason they asked Luis Moreno Ocampo to take that position was because there wasn't a lot of expertise about how to go about prosecuting war crimes. Since, of course, we then did see that the ICTY, the ad hoc tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was up and running when the ICC began. So they were then developing a lot of expertise as well, but it took them a long time. If you look back at the early reports on the ICTY, they're hugely critical in the same way I think many people are critical of the ICC. It was slow. They were only getting the little fish. They said, we'll never get the big fish. They couldn't execute arrest warrants, as Patrick was saying. And then over time, the ICTY, the Yugoslav tribunal, got better at doing all of that and eventually was a hugely successful tribunal that indicted many. Many arrest warrants were executed. The NATO troops finally got good at executing arrest warrants, which they were afraid to do at first. And we started developing this expertise among judges and lawyers and others about how to go about prosecuting war crimes.
Ralph Ranalli: And eventually that prosecution led to a head of state who was Slobodan Milosevic, right? He died in prison before he could be prosecuted, but just the fact that there was a head of state who was in the dock. I mean, that was a very significant development in terms of what you might call an arc of history bending towards international justice. And Kathryn, you wrote a book called the Justice Cascade, which I think touches on that notion. Can you tell me a little bit about that book and about that process?
Kathryn Sikkink: The book the Justice Cascade is about this point I was making earlier, how we've gone from a situation where state officials were never held accountable for human rights violations in their own countries or in international tribunals, with a few dramatic exceptions like Nuremberg and Tokyo. That process is very recent. It starts in domestic courts. It's gained steam, as we've seen, so that my students today, for example, take it completely for granted that, of course, we can hold people accountable. We can and should hold people accountable. The criticism is mainly why don't we do a better job at it. I like to remind people how recent the phenomena is and how far we've come in a short time. But I also want to say that the Justice Cascade does not mean there's a cascade of justice being done all over the world. What it means is there's a cascade in new norms that justice would be done. And I think that's where we do see a lot of agreement and this Ukraine case really underscores that. There's been such far reaching calls for justice here.
And if I could just take one more moment. One big question here is what difference does international law make? And some pundits are saying, see, international law doesn't make any difference because of the flagrant violation of law that Russia has engaged in, both in its invasion, but also in its prosecution of the war. However, I would argue that we know violations of law and norms by the response to them. And this incredibly rapid sanction regime, rapid and deep sanction regime, and the active involvement of the International Criminal Court and the big calls for justice, all suggest that people know and care deeply about these norms and this law, and are doing everything possible to see them implemented.
Ralph Ranalli: Patrick, getting back to this idea of research on the ground. Last month, you put out a call for Ukrainian translators for what's called the KoBoToolbox, which is your digital data collection tool that’s used around the world. I read that it recently surpassed 300 million survey submissions, which is remarkable. Can you talk a little bit about how the toolbox works and how data collection works and its role in all of this?
Patrick Vinck: Sure. And maybe I'll first start with some context and the reason why engaging and having that dialogue with communities, individuals in situation of conflict is important. I think Kathryn was talking a little bit about this, the last decades of last century, kind of this emergence in agreement on the importance of transitional justice that ultimately leads to the creation of the International Criminal Court, was really followed by almost two decades now of a much more critical discussion and the emergence of what I would say, a victim's language disconnected from the reality on the ground. That is, people arguing we need to do this for victims, or we need to do that for victims and engaging this almost ideologically driven position as to what needs to be done and how, but very often lacking evidence. Which is really what our project is about, is trying to build this evidence around transitional justice, not at the only at the macro level effect, but also on the ground, how does it work, but also then building a more survivor, more engaging research. And so it's such a simple idea to say, there's a debate between should it be the ICC or should it be more local and traditional mechanisms that are set up to deal with this violence? Well, at the very least, let's ask the people. That seems now such an obvious idea, but when Phuong and I started doing this in 2003, 2004, it wasn't really commonly done, and so we started with this idea of consulting and engaging with people on a fairly large scale and did a number of surveys. But we very quickly became frustrated by the fact that we were in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad and we interviewed people and then you have to transcribe, you have to translate, you have to analyze. It takes a year to get information out, which means that by the time you are able to actually talk about what people are saying, then it's no longer really useful. The de Baathification process, this process of removing anyone who was an official under Saddam Hussein, was already done. But the problem is in the process you removed qualified people to run hospitals. And so it had really a negative perception from the population, but we were not able to advocate on this early enough. And so we created this tool that was meant to be able to encode data directly in the field, as you do an interview. And again, it seems—now that we have Google Forms and Survey Monkey—it seems very obvious, but one, it wasn't really available at the time; and two, many of these systems just don't work in the type of environment where you don't have connectivity, where you don't even have electricity access all the time, and you need to build kind of robust solution. And so we literally took money we would normally use for transcription and photocopies of paper forms to build a tool. We were fortunate at the same time other people had similar ideas, the University of Washington created an open project that we collaborated and adopted. And so created this platform that indeed has now become very popular, especially among humanitarian actors, and really helps understand people's needs, expectations, and desires from the ground up. The idea being that they are the first confronted with the consequences of natural disasters of conflict. They have ideas about what they have experienced, how it affects their daily lives, and what they want to see happen in the future. And that's really what we're trying to collect is, understanding on how do communities rebuild? What are their views on what needs to be done? And to bring that so that people who are making decisions finally hear what people have to say.
Kathryn Sikkink: What Patrick hasn't mentioned is that he, Patrick Vinck, and his collaborator and wife, Phuong Pham, are among the world's leading experts on conducting surveys of people in conflict zones, in particular, about their attitudes about many things, but including their attitudes about justice. What's so impressive about Patrick and Phuong's work is that it's very systematic, so we're not talking about informal focus groups in a single country. We're talking about surveys of large numbers of people in very difficult situations in countries around the world. So I think, here, Patrick, you can correct me now, but it's some over 200,000 people that you yourselves, you and Phuong yourselves have done the surveys of. And then created this impressive technology that then they could make available to many, many other researchers throughout the world, the KoBoToolbox.
Patrick Vinck: If I can take maybe a step away from Ukraine and talk about the Congo and maybe not directly about accountability as well, but we've been working in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than 10 years now, which has experienced horrific amounts of violence and it's ongoing. And what we've done is really try to engage and bring these methods and efforts to assess the perception of security, of security actors, of all the people who are involved in the peace building efforts there, and finding what works and what doesn't work. And in the midst of all this, you have an outbreak of Ebola that happens in 2018. And so the type of research we were able to do very quickly was to show, look, people are not willing to hear your message, because they don't trust you because you haven't gained their trust. When we do surveys around the perception of humanitarian actors, for example, we find that only about 10% of the people feel they are treated with respect, that the humanitarians are respecting local customs and traditions. So there are really fundamental issues with how the international system behaves, and that undermines, for example, people's willingness to comply with recommendations on protective behavior against Ebola, and we've seen the same of course, with COVID. So that's the kind of data we are able to bring.
Another example more directly related to transitional justice is this idea that memorialization is a good thing. Creating memorials, having places to remember what has happened is a good thing. But then when we start asking people, we find that there are many people who are against it. They're against it on a range of grounds, but one of the examples is people who suffer from mental health trauma, from trauma, who do not want to be reminded on a daily basis of what they have experienced. Who don't want to be on their normal commute and then all of a sudden have these memorials remind them of what they have experienced. So this is the kind of information that is helpful to build more inclusive, more responsive measures to what survivors need and want. That's what we are trying to do, bring that kind of information. Not to say, this is what needs to be done. This is good. This is bad. But rather to say, look, this is what people are saying. Let's have a dialogue and let's try to find some solution that has the most likelihood of success of bringing satisfaction to survivors and only working that way can we start rebuilding the relation between individuals and the state, between individuals and actors that are supposed to serve them, but are not always necessarily behaving or adopting measures that are directly responding to needs and priorities.
Ralph Ranalli: Great. I guess I wanted to wrap up by asking you about aspirations in this area and how they bump up against geopolitical realities. Russia is a nuclear state. And even if the ICC says, "President Putin, we have evidence that you've violated international criminal laws." He might say, "Well, I've got 6,200 nuclear warheads that say you don't." And the chances of him being in a criminal dock anytime soon are probably not great. But how do you make the case that the ICC and this trend towards increased international accountability and international justice, that it's still a worthwhile effort, even though it has those kinds of limitations? And maybe, Kathryn, if you want to go first.
Kathryn Sikkink: So first I would like to say that we shouldn't create very high expectations here, and especially that we're going to see Putin in the Hague. So a lot of the headlines about accountability are like, "Putin should be prosecuted for war crimes." We're making a different argument. We're making an argument that has to do with historic prosecutions, which have looked at the chain of command and not just at the top leadership, and have held people accountable at various places in the chain of command from soldiers with particularly egregious practices to their officers who either knew, either gave orders, illegal orders, or knew about them, or didn't know and should have known. So there's a practice here of prosecutions throughout the chain of command. And that is a much more possible thing that could be happening and it can be happening in the ICC and it can be happening in Ukraine. In fact, this weekend, there was a prosecution that opened in Ukraine.
The second thing I would like to say is, the single most important thing we can do to end war crimes is to have an early peace in this war. The biggest cause of human rights violation in the world is war, international war and civil war. And so we don't want to prolong the war. If there's a peace agreement, the Russians will clearly ask for amnesty and immunity for their crimes. But even if Ukraine agrees to that, the International Criminal Court is not bound by that. In fact, it's now contrary to national law, that you simply can't amnesty these core ICC crimes. So I believe that what we're seeing now, I think, here's me getting on a limb, here's my prediction. I think we're going to look back and see this as an inflection point, where it became clear that the whole world was watching, in real time, as war crimes were being committed, that it became clear that that is an unacceptable practice for which individuals will be deeply discredited, if not imprisoned. And this may change the way we think in the future about war and about accountability.
Ralph Ranalli: Patrick, I'll give you the last word. How do you get people to see past limitations and to see the possibilities of what can be achieved here?
Patrick Vinck: Apologies. These are difficult last words. There is kind of objectives, and I'll get back to that in a minute, but I think there's still that responsibility. And I want to go back to this idea of responsibility to protect and responsibility to hold to account. We've not been achieving, we've not meeting our responsibility when it comes to protection. And so I still think that this responsibility to hold to account matters. It matters because, fundamentally, it goes with human rights principles and it's important in its own rights, but it's also important because that is what people want. Again, all of our consultations, whether crimes have been committed last month or 10 years ago or 40 years ago, like we've seen in places like Cambodia, we see that that demand exists, that there is this need to hold perpetrators accountable and to have some form of justice. And so that remains important in its own right.
Now, we do know that, as Kathryn mentioned, as was mentioned, like you talked about Slobodan Milosevic, who was not arrested and prosecuted until at least six or seven years into the existence of the ICTY, so we know that the wheels of justice takes time, but there are immediate steps and important steps in sending that message that accountability matters, and that not just those few most responsible will be held accountable. Lastly, none of this is possible without the support of the states, of state support to the ICC, by funding it, by facilitating its work, including the collection of evidence, by cooperating when it comes to arrest warrants, as I mentioned earlier. And so, seeing past what can be done, I think this is what's really important. The budget of the International Criminal Court has not changed over the last five years, or just minor incremental change, but there has not been major new commitment and major funding. That's what the court needs to operate. And I guess the last word would be that if that is the world we want, if that is the objectives we have, which I hope we do, then we need to give ourselves the means to achieve it. And the ICC is there. It is the right instrument. We now need to make sure it is supported to achieve its goal. Thank you.
Ralph Ranalli: Well, thank you both very much. I think this has been a really fascinating, but also very important conversation and I really appreciate you participating and sharing your wisdom on this. So, thanks a lot.
Kathryn Sikkink: It's again, our pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Patrick Vinck: Thank you for having us, indeed.
Ralph Ranalli (Outro): Thanks for listening. Please join us for our next episode, when my guest will be Harvard Kennedy School Professor Rema Hanna. We’ll be talking about her new effort to study the unprecedented rise in social welfare programs around the globe in response to the pandemic and how it could lead to more efficient and effective methods to combat poverty and inequality.