Administering Justice: An Interview with the ICC Registrar

Shehzad Charania, Legal Advisor and Head of the International Law Team for the British Embassy in The Hague, joins JiC once again, this time for an interview with ICC Registrar Herman von Hebel. Shehzad spoke to von Hebel about why he had wanted the be Registrar, his experiences of working at the other international criminal courts and tribunals, the unique challenges within the ICC Registry, his hopes for the Court, and his own plans within it.

ICC Registrar Herman Von Hebel speaks with Shehzad Charania

ICC Registrar Herman Von Hebel speaks with Shehzad Charania

Why did he want the job?

I began by asking about his motivations for taking on his current role. The Registrar recalled that he had been part of the Dutch delegation dealing with ICC matters from 1995, continuing through to the Rome Conference in 1998. After this, he spent time working at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). He could see similarities and differences between, on the one hand, his roles at the other courts and tribunals, and,on the other, the ICC. He wanted to bring the experience he had gained in these other institutions, as well as the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to the ICC, in order to address the ICC’s unique challenges. When he interviewed for the job of ICC Registrar, he had focused on the need for reform, and an overhaul of the existing structure.

Law or administration?

I asked why having spent so much of his early career – in particular with the Dutch Foreign Ministry, and the ICTY as Senior Legal Officer – dealing with the purely legal and judicial aspects of international criminal law, he had decided to move to the administrative side of the work of the legal institutions. The Registrar felt that the shift wasn’t so great. Law and diplomacy continued to be a central part of his current job, as they were in his previous roles. He needed to exercise his legal muscles on a daily basis. He did not consider the role of Registrar as a purely administrative job – of course, it was a major part, but there was also a significant focus on issues of leadership and forging a common vision.

Previous Registrar jobs

In terms of the differences between his jobs as Registrar at the STL and SCSL, and the ICC, the ICC stood out as being radically different from the others. The STL and SCSL, as well as the ICTY, had focussed on a single situation, be it Lebanon, Sierra Leone or the former Yugoslavia. This determined the organisational structure, and the way those institutions functioned. The ICC’s global reach had a huge impact on the way it was set up: it was almost a set of “mini-tribunals”, each dealing with a different country situation. The external governance structure of the various courts was also different. For example, to finalise the ICTY budget, the Tribunal had to go to New York every two years and answer the questions of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions for a week. After this, they presented their proposal to the UN Fifth Committee. With the STL and the SCSL, as Registrar he had to present his budget proposal to a Management Committee of ten and six members respectively. None of these relationships were as labour intensive as within the ICC, where the Court had to deal with the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), its Bureau, The Hague and New York Working Groups, and the various facilitations. His experience of the different governance structures made him question whether the current relationship between States Parties to the Rome Statute and the Court was the right one. After all, the ICC was not just another international organisation in the same mould as the United Nations or the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The ICC was a court of law, bound by the Rome Statute and the mandate encapsulated within it.

The ICC website

One of the specific issues the Registrar had said he wanted to tackle when he was first elected was the ICC website. On this, progress was being made. There had been a number of technical and design issues to tackle. But he had received positive feedback from a number of stakeholders  on test versions of the new site. He was hopeful of a launch in early 2016, after the Court had moved to its new building.

The Revision Project

We then moved on to talk about the “ReVision project” – the Registrar’s reorganisation of the Registry. The Registrar was adamant that his decision to undertake the project had been the correct one, despite the challenges he has faced since the work began. When he arrived at the Court, it was clear that the Registry was not functioning as well as the Registries in the other international courts he had worked in. This was reflected in ASP resolutions, reports of the ASP’s advisory body the Committee for Budget and Finance (CBF), and the 2013 report of Price Waterhouse Coopers on the organisational structure of the Court. He considered it an obligation to deal with the issues identified; he would rightly have been criticised if he had not taken action. And even though the ReVision project was almost complete, there was still work to do: on the management structure, ensuring all staff shared a common vision, the budgetary process, working even more closely with the other organs of the Court, building a single, internal case law database, and putting in place adequate performance management systems.

The 2016 budget

On the budget process, the Registrar acknowleged that he was unhappy with the 26% increase in the 2016 budget proposal for the Registry, having ensured close to zero growth for the previous two years. But a significant increase had been necessary to keep up with the growth of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP). The Registrar had been a leading advocate in seeking more resources for the OTP. Over the last three years, the Registrar had been gratified to see the OTP’s funding increase by 54%. At the same time, the Registry’s budget would have increased by only 12%, if States Parties followed the recommendation of the CBF. Once you then removed from the Registry’s budget the costs related to the new ICC building, the increase was only 7%. The original increase sought was necessary to cope with the expectations placed on the Registry. For example, in 2016 it was predicted that the Court would have to protect twice as many witnesses as in 2015. In addition, there would be four simultaneous trials in 2016 for the first time. All this would have a significant impact on the Registry’s resources and, with less money than they had hoped for, he would face challenges in delivering the necessary services to support the work of the rest of the Court. The challenges would be amplified if the Court authorised the OTP’s request to open an investigation into the situation in Georgia. As a result, the Registry would have to set clear priorities.

An anti-African Court?

We then discussed the Court more broadly. I asked whether the Prosecutor’s request to the Pre-Trial Chamber to authorise the opening of an investigation into the situation in Georgia might quell some of the criticism that the ICC was “anti-African”. The Registrar was hopeful, although the Court’s detractors could easily adapt their argument to say that the ICC was still “primarily” focussing on Africa. But the Registrar was keen to emphasise, as the Prosecutor had previously, that relations with most African countries were good. To take one example, the recent arrest of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi showed the strength of the Court’s relationships with Niger and Mali.

The ICC’s Permanent Premises

I asked about the ICC’s new building. The Court would be moving in very soon Did the Registrar think that this would usher in a new era for the institution? The Registrar was positive: the Court would finally be in a single building; and he would be taking into it a fresh, new look Registry. He was confident that in a few years, the building would become an icon and symbol of the fight against impunity, and all those who entered the building including staff and representatives of States Parties would be proud of the part they were playing in that.


Looking back at the highlights of his time as Registrar, he pointed to his visits to the field; in particular, one visit to Bunia in eastern DRC stood out. He had met with twenty women who had been the victims of crimes of sexual violence. Because of the work of the Trust Fund for Victims, these women had been given the chance to rebuild their lives, and work towards a better future. That meeting had emphasised to the Registrar one of the reasons why the ICC had been created in the first place: not only to deliver justice and accountability, but also to empower victims of the most serious crimes.

A Second Term?

Finally, on whether he would stand for re-election in two and a half years, the Registrar said that this was not yet the time to consider this. If he were to stand for a second term, it would allow him to follow up on the initiatives he had undertaken. But there was too much to do now to think about this. He would consider the matter in the final year of his current term.


About Mark Kersten

Mark Kersten is a consultant at the Wayamo Foundation, a Senior Researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a law student at McGill University Law School. He is also author of the book, 'Justice in Conflict - The Effects of the International Criminal Court's Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace' (Oxford University Press, 2016).
This entry was posted in ICC Registry, International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Justice, International Law, Interview, Interviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Administering Justice: An Interview with the ICC Registrar

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