60 years in Geneva defending the rule of law: Sir Nicolas Bratza’s words

by | Oct 24, 2018 | News

The ICJ started its 60th anniversary in Geneva with an evening gala hosted by Ambassador Julian Braithwaite, at his residence on 18 October 2018. A moving speech by Sir Nicolas Bratza (photo), ICJ Commissioner and Executive Committee member, on the importance of the defence of the rule of law opened the evening.

It was followed by a magnificent concert by Menuhin Academy virtuoso, violinist Vasyl Zatsikha. A magical evening.

The speech of Sir Nicolas Bratza

“I feel very privileged to have been asked to say a few words by way of introduction to the speech of the Secretary General of the ICJ.

May I begin by expressing on behalf of us all the warmest thanks to the British Ambassador for hosting this very special celebration of the 60th anniversary of the ICJ in its home in Geneva.

Anniversaries are always important occasions and never more so than when they mark a milestone in the life of a remarkable organization that has throughout its existence worked tirelessly to safeguard the rule of law and human rights and that has done so, in particular, by protecting and defending the independence of judges and lawyers.

My association with the ICJ has been relatively brief but for many years I have admired its work from afar, as a member of the European Commission of Human Rights for five years and as a judge of the Strasbourg Court, for fourteen.

The Court and the ICJ share the common purpose – to protect the fundamental principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

Without the independent and impartiality of judges, both national and international, those principles would be meaningless and might as well have been written on water.

With the alarming growth of populism in countries across the world, the threats to the independence of the judiciary are regrettably as real today as they have been at any time.

In the international Court of which I was a member, judges are nominated by the States from which they are drawn.

But they are in no sense representatives of those States and are not infrequently faced with having to decide cases, sometimes cases of acute sensitivity, against their own countries.

The pressures on judges of the Court are often intense and there are notorious examples where the courage shown by a judge in maintaining his or her rigorous independence has come at a cost, the judge being punished by not being renominated by the State, by returning to the country at the end of their mandate without employment or means of livelihood, or by being unable to return safely to their home at all.

But if the position of the international judge is difficult enough, that of the national judge in certain States, including member States of the Council of Europe, is far worse, their independence and security, both physical and professional, being under constant threat.

In the 1990s and in the early years of this century, the signs were promising. One was able to witness a slow but steady improvement in adherence to the rule of law on the part of new democracies.

This was in no small measure due to the work of organizations such as the ICJ which, through its writings, seminars and training of judges and lawyers worldwide, did so much to strengthen and support judicial independence and to expose the most flagrant examples of abuse and undermining of that independence.

I regret to say that in more recent years the landscape has become much darker, with open and insidious attacks on members of the judiciary, the arbitrary removal of judges from their posts and measures taken to curtail the powers of judges and courts or to undermine their authority and independence.

In my official visits to member States as President of the Strasbourg Court, I met several judges who voiced their deep concern about the steps being taken both by the legislature and the executive to compromise their independence and to diminish their authority. It is not only in the new democracies that such a phenomenon has become apparent.

There has been a growing trend in many parts of Europe to undermine the standing and authority of the judiciary by outspoken attacks on judges for unpopular decisions, by members of the executive, by parliamentarians and by the media.

It is these challenges to judicial independence and to the rule of law that make the role of the ICJ and the continued support of the diplomatic community not only more relevant but more vital than they have ever been.

It is with pride and pleasure that I wish the ICJ a very happy anniversary on this its first 60 years of life in this great city.

But I combine this with a fervent hope that, with the support of us all, the ICJ is able to continue its extraordinary work for the next 60 years and far beyond. The protection of the rule of law and human rights depend on it.”

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