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Statement by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Good afternoon, dear friends and colleagues. Thank you, Mr. Sørby, for this opportunity to make some remarks at this important side event.

I regret that my schedule prevented me from attending the first half of the event, to witness the launch of two new volumes in the comprehensive series ‘Historical Origins of International Criminal Law’. The scope and diversity of that project is both meritorious and impressive. It deepens our understanding of the field of international criminal law. It is, in short, a significant contribution to be commended.

The books launched today are published by the Torkel Opsahl Academic EPublisher which has pioneered open access to literature in international criminal law and related fields. I share that commitment to open access, which is so fundamental in so many ways, not the least for raising awareness of this crucial and evolving discipline.

Already, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasised in its Article 27 that everyone has the right to “share in scientific advancement and its benefits”. Recent articles and reports – also by The Hague Conference on Private International Law – stress that equal and open access should also extend to legal sources.

Access to laws, judgments and decisions that have been made by public institutions by use of public funds must be made readily available. The law, after all, is first and foremost there to serve an important societal function. 

Unequal access to legal sources breeds inequality between practitioners, researches and students. This is particularly important in international criminal law, a discipline of law that seeks to offer a sense of justice to victims of atrocity crimes in societies that may be materially less resourceful, often as a result of violent conflict. Those who want to resort to international criminal law should have immediate and free access to its legal sources.

Only when they do, can we reasonably expect that they will be able to work to their full capacity in the application and interpretation of international criminal law. There is, in other words, a connection between access to legal sources and capacity  to investigate, prosecute and adjudicate core international crimes. By giving better access to legal sources, we may enhance criminal justice capacity. What is more, such access can also contribute most significantly to the growing awareness of the discipline, and hence wider support for international criminal justice writ large.

It is against this background that my Office started the Legal Tools Project in 2003 and have remained committed to it ever since. During these 12 years, the number of legal sources available in the ICC Legal Tools Database has grown every year. So has the use of the Database. It is indeed impressive that there has been 2,643,299 hits to the Database between 1 January and 16 November 2015, and that the Database now contains more than 100,000 legal sources.

This success has not gone unrecognised at the Court, where many decisions and key documents of my Office now contain hyperlinks to the Database. This practice of hyperlinking accelerates the opening of access to legal sources.

For example, one judgment of the Court may contain hyperlinks to several hundred legal sources in the Database; when the judgement is put online it becomes a library for those practitioners, researchers and students who do not have access to traditional libraries. It is positive that the Court contributes in this way to the dissemination of international criminal law in general, not only its own case law.

The work on the Legal Tools is undertaken by the Project Co-ordinator Professor Morten Bergsmo, who creatively conceived the Project in 2003 and has led it since with constancy, a Deputy Co-ordinator, Ms. MA Xili, and a team of 18 partner institutions from around the world.

I would like to acknowledge here the truly impressive work that Morten has done on this significant project since day one. He has been the engine behind this initiative and his tireless efforts have ensured that a needed vision was brought to life. He continues to nurture this project to maturity. Thank you, Morten again for this important contribution.

I understand that important technical support is also being provided by the experts Ilia Utmelidze, Ralph Hecksteden and Mathias Gisch. The time-consuming tasks of finding documents, loading them into the Database, and registering search data for each document are done by the volunteers working for the partner institutions. They are part of a diverse, dedicated team, with members on every continent.

We should express our appreciation to all the members of the Legal Tools team for the work they have done and are doing for the Project. They are building a public good.

I have been informed that one member of the Legal Tools team has made a particularly strong contribution in 2015, Ms. Matiiapa Chindori-Chininga from the University of Cape Town. Let us congratulate her on being the Legal Tools Team Member of the year. We are grateful for the contributions by the teams at the Universities of Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal.

The ICC Legal Tools Project is extra-budgetary. It does not drain the Court’s budget. I would like to commend the donors for having taken a long-term view, in particular the European Union, Finland, Denmark and Norway. The impressive statistics of the ICC Legal Tools Database show that this was right.

Let me conclude my remarks, Mr. Chair, by encouraging continued support to the ICC Legal Tools Project. It is an open project in the service of open access and ultimately the cause of international criminal justice. Thank you.

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