UCLA Law Forum
The UCLA Law Forum creates opportunities for the wider legal community to engage in a dialogue covering the topics of special interest to the International Criminal Court Prosecutor.
The internet offers a perfect platform for the direct involvement of legal scholars and thinkers from across the globe. The forum is the only place where an online citizen has access to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court by simply posting his or her opinion.
The Forum project was conceived in 2009 and came into existence after negotiations in 2010. The structure of the Forum relies on a carefully balanced triad of ideas: the Prosecutor’s question (together with extensive background materials), the detailed analysis of the question by the Invited Experts, and the discussion - open to the online public.
The Prosecutor’s framing of the question provides the context of the problem. The Invited Expert Opinions give in-depth points of view on the Prosecutor’s question. The online debate opens the Prosecutor's question to extensive vetting by Invited Experts, legal scholars, politicians and a wider audience of interested individuals. Such a structured approach creates a fertile ground for a high level analysis of the problem.
There have been six debates to date and one mini issue:
- “Does the Prosecutor of the ICC have the authority to open an investigation into alleged crimes committed in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict?”
- “What are the obligations of Contracting Parties to the Genocide Convention to implement arrest warrants for genocide issued by the ICC, and of African Union State Parties to implement ICC arrest warrants generally?”
- “What is the proper balance between the independence of the International Criminal Court and the oversight role of the Assembly of States Parties regarding the Court’s administration under Article 112 of the Rome Statute?”
- “Should Saif al-Islam Gaddafi be tried by the National Transitional Council of Libya or by the International Criminal Court?”
- “What measures should be taken to maximize the crime prevention impact of the International Criminal Court?”
- “What International Criminal Court reparations regime would be most appropriate for addressing mass atrocities and war crimes?”
- "Can the International Criminal Court (ICC) sustain a conviction for the underlying crime of mass rape without testimony from victims?"
To demonstrate the effectiveness of the Forum, over 60 000 words were written as part of the Gaza question discussion since between its launch in August 2010 and May 2012.
The UCLA Law Forum is working on the next debate which will focus upon sex crimes in conflicts.
UCLALawForum.com is a co-operative venture between the UCLA Sanela Diana Jenkins International Human Rights Project and the International Criminal Court's Office of the Prosecutor.
1. Can you briefly describe the innovation, in terms of the problem(s) it tries to solve and why is it necessary?
In 2011, we gave a talk at the UC Berkeley Human Rights conference, Advancing the New Machine, on UCLA Law Forum design. The slide deck from the show is up on SlideShare, the link is below:
The International Criminal Court is based on the Statute of Rome, adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome in 1998 with 139 signatories and 111 parties (United States of America did not sign) and coming into force beginning in 2002. We are at the dawn of the era governed by international criminal law. As cases are decided, the International Criminal Court at The Hague slowly clarifies its powers, its reach, and its jurisdiction. The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has to gather evidence and make decisions on who to prosecute. There are very limited resources and creating a shared knowledge of legal procedures and precedent is in the best interest of all parties: the prosecution, the defense, the court, and the signatories.
While there are many interesting topics that can occupy the life-time of legal debaters, this is not the mission of this Forum. This Forum narrowly focuses only on those questions that are of the most urgent need of exploration by the Prosecutor of ICC. She makes the decision of what is of interest to her office. The Forum provides the support and technology to make this legal exploration possible.
The Forum is structured part as a law journal and part as an online debate. Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at UCLA School of Law runs the UCLALawForum.com. It developed the technical infrastructure that supports the needs of the Prosecutor and the project. It works with legal scholars and the community at large to create a safe and intellectually rigorous place to discuss the questions of interest to the Prosecutor.
There are five main goals for the Forum. First, it serves as a platform for legal debate to moot the issues of interest to the Prosecutor of ICC. It is a tremendous advantage to moot contentious issues prior to their appearance in court. This would speed up the trials and not waste energy on topics better covered in a more open and deliberate fashion.
Opening up the issues to a wider audience and fostering public debate is the second goal of the Project. There is no central location where international law is being debated in front of the public. Most legal journals have a very limited distribution and are not readily to average citizen (even from countries that have signed the Statue of Rome and are thus bound to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court). The Forum is free and open to all.
The Prosecutor is grappling with very complex legal and political issues. A public online debate is a perfect place to explore these issues. Not only does it allow for multiple points of view and an active debate between opposing perspectives, but it keeps a permanent record of these discussions. As perspectives and thoughts shift in the mists of politics, there will still be the Forum.
And finally, up until the start of this project, the OTP has been a black box—why does the Prosecutor decide to go after this criminal but not that? Why are some crimes worth prosecuting and some not? Since the answers are not known, the media can intensify the emotions of those involved in international crimes both as victims and as perpetrators. The unknown always causes anxiety. While limited in its scope, the Forum can provide some visibility into the OTP’s decisions.
2. What makes your innovation unique?
In brief: UCLALawForum is the only place on the Internet and the only organization that allows citizens of the world to join discussions based on the work of ICC OTP and have those brought to the attention of the Prosecutor. This forum is unique in the work it does.
ICT is creating opportunities for legal scholars, politicians, students of law, journalists, human rights activist, and individuals interested in the evolution of international criminal law to engage in authentic debate on the issues of interest to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.
In 2009, Dr. Richard H. Steinberg, the director of Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at UCLA School of Law approached Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to brainstorm how Information Communication Technologies (ICT) can be used to assist ICC OTP in its mission. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo expressed a need to moot some of the tough legal questions that were presenting themselves to the court with the world-wide community of legal scholars. Thus the UCLALawForum.com was born. It combined the best aspects of a legal journal with the approachability of an online community. After identifying specific questions, carefully framing them, and proving back research, the Forum was able to find a balanced group of legal scholars to create a foundation of opinions. These Expert Opinions were structured in line with a high-level legal journal format: scholars were contacted and presented with the OTP’s question, they were asked to write a well-researched and document position paper, and the responses were edited and styled for the Forum. Once the Expert Opinions were posted, the Forum was opened to the public. Anyone can join, anyone can post, although hate speech is strictly forbidden. The Forum strives for a civil discussion even of the most difficult questions. Ms Fatou Bensouda, the new Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has renewed her support for the Forum.
UCLA, ICC, and Sanela Diana Jenkins Foundation support the efforts of the Forum by providing links and public relations assistance. UCLA Law students take a year-long course and act as associate editors, getting a valuable exposure to the international criminal law issues and to the word-renowned scholars.
Mr. Moreno-Ocampo has announced his position on the Gaza debate. We are sure that the debate on UCLALawForum—“Does the Prosecutor of the ICC have the authority to open an investigation into alleged crimes committed in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict?”—had an impact on his decision.
3. What triggered the development of the innovation?
UCLALawForum.com is a unique use of ICT to explore the issues of interest to the Prosecutor of ICC. It provides a place where these issues get highlighted. It presents the relevant legal landscape with the Framing of the Issue and the Invited Experts, in addition to the public debate. The Forum provides visibility to OTP policy decisions. It gives voice to the public and creates a community of interested parties around each issue. And it vets each issue in a defined time span, making it a useful resource prior to its introduction into the courtroom of the International Criminal Court.
4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?
Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at UCLA School of Law, under the direction of Professor Richard Steinberg, run the editorial side of the project.
International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor poses questions of interest—the foundation of each debate.
Pipsqueak Production, Dr. Olga Werby and Christopher Werby J.D., designed and developed the forum and its structure and run all technical aspects of the forum.
5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?
The forum is a product of partnership of several very large, very bureaucratic institutions: the University of California and the International Criminal Court. The forum’s design had to work very hard to satisfy the requirements of each of these organizations. And it had to work for the audience—the people who actually went there, read it, and participated in the discussion.
Additionally, the Forum has been under hacker attack from the day it was launched. But to date, not a single attempt disrupted the system.
6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and when will quick wins be available?
The Forum took a year to develop. There was a careful negotiation between ICC OTP, UCLA School of Law, and Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at UCLA School of Law—the entity which runs the Forum. Then came the design of the structure of the Forum (the multiple tiers of participation and support structures for users). Technical execution required tight security and ease of use. And finally, the Forum was launched in the summer of 2010. UCLALawForum.com is generously supported by a grant from the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project.
With seven debates, the home page of the Forum evolved into a index of issues rather than the original single-issue presentation.
7. Will the innovation affect other organizations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
In April 2012, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo announced his position on the Gaza debate. We are sure that the debate on UCLALawForum—“Does the Prosecutor of the ICC have the authority to open an investigation into alleged crimes committed in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict?”—had an impact on his decision.
The press covering this event is free to use the extensive materials on this issue available on the Forum. Clarity and transparency of ICC OTP decisions was one of our goals for this project.
UCLA Students and other Forum participants receive a significant reputational boost from their involvement with the Forum.
The public has access to extensive collection of well-thought out and well-balanced opinions on the topics covered by the Forum.
8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?
UCLALawForum.com is generously supported by the grant from the Sanela Diana Jenkins Foundation.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?
- The Forum structure
- ICC OTP participation
- UCLA School of Law editorial support
- Pipsqueak Production’s technical and design expertise
- And the grant from the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project
10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?
We measure the success by several factors:
- Continued strong support of the Forum by ICC OTP
- The quality of Invited Experts
- The number of participants
- The readership: # of languages, # of countries, # of readers, and press
- Positive feedback from UCLA Law students working as editors and UCLA School of Law in general
- Strong support of the Sanela Diana Jenkins Foundation
11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?
We no longer give out precise number of Forum views, but in is in a hundreds of thousands.
12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit your innovation now and in the future? Can or will the innovation be used internationally and how do you overcome cultural differences?
With each debate, the number of Forum participants grows. Invited Experts come from all over the world and from very varied institutions. Our audience is extremely varied as well. Again, we don’t give particulars in order to limit the continuous security threats on our system.
13. Can you quantify the financial benefits?
This is a non profit venture.
14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
This is a non profit venture.
15. Did you receive any recognition?
The Forum received a lot of positive press, but this is the first award for which we have asked to be considered. Obviously, we received the grant from the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project to run our project. And we are getting a lot of positive feedback on our work from the ICC ITP.
16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?
The structure of the UCLALawForum would work for any complex topic. Currently, we are pursuing possibilities of creating an Environmental Law Forum, using the same technology and structure.