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Part Two: 1970-1990

Commencing in 1970, the twenty-year tenure of Niall MacDermot witnessed the transformation of the ICJ into an organization that championed the Rule of Law and the legal protection of human rights. MacDermot channeled the energies of the ICJ into an organization that marshaled a wide spectrum of tools and strategies to advance these objectives. These included the elaboration of authoritative conceptual studies; work on international standard setting; advocacy at the UN and other bodies for international responses to grave human rights crises; country reports and trial observations; and efforts to develop the capacity of lawyers at the national level to defend human rights.

Niall MacDermot (centre)

During this period, the ICJ made significant contributions to a developing body of international law including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment. In 1980, Niall MacDermot first proposed a United Nations convention on enforced disappearances, which later came to fruition through ICJ efforts.

Missions in Chile and Uganda

Niall MacDermot was also responsible for leading the first fact-finding mission to Chile to examine the violations of human rights following the military coup of September 1973. The ICJ exposed the atrocities under Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, in the 1977 report ‘Uganda and Human Rights’, which had a decisive effect on the policies of several governments, and for which the ICJ was thanked in the UN General Assembly by President Binaisa after Amin’s overthrow.

Shaping the African Commission on Human Rights

In 1975 and 1976, the ICJ organized a series of visits to Heads of State in Africa urging the adoption of an African Human Rights Convention and an African Commission on Human Rights, which led to President Senghor of Senegal proposing the OAU resolution that in turn led to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. After its adoption, the ICJ was active in securing the necessary 26 ratifications to bring it into force.

Capacity building and trial observations

The ICJ helped establish regional non-governmental human rights organizations in developing countries, including the Andean Commission of Jurists, the Inter-African Union of Lawyers, the Regional Council on Human Rights in Asia, and the South Asian Association for the Right to Development.

At the grass-roots level, the ICJ promoted legal services in rural areas of Africa through training para-legals to work at the village level.

During this period, the ICJ sent observers to significant political trials on 56 occasions in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.

1978: Creation of the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers

In 1978, the ICJ established the Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL). It was instrumental in the formulation and adoption of the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and its mandate is to work for their implementation.

Since 1978, the CIJL has sent observers to politically trials of judges and lawyers prosecuted for political reasons or where serious fair trial concerns have arisen It has also undertaken missions to countries to evaluate the condition of the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession and worked to protect lawyers and judges under persecution or harassment for carrying out their legitimate professional functions.

In addition, the CIJL has produced publications containing scholarly works and analytical country reports on the independence of judges and lawyers. Since 2010, the CIJL runs the yearly Geneva Forum of Judges and Lawyers.

1986: Promoting Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

In 1986, the ICJ gathered a group of distinguished experts in international law to consider the nature and scope of the obligations of States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The meeting witnessed the birth of the Limburg Principles, which continue to guide international law in the area of economic, social and cultural rights.