For over five decades, the ICJ has played a seminal role in establishing international human rights standards and working towards their implementation. Through pioneering activities, including inquiry commissions, trial observations, fact-finding missions, public denunciations and quiet diplomacy, the ICJ has been a powerful advocate for justice.
Born at the ideological frontline of a divided post-war Berlin, the ICJ was established in memory of a West German lawyer, Dr. Walter Linse, Acting President of the Association of Free German Jurists. Active in exposing human rights violations committed in the Soviet zone, he denounced arbitrary arrests, secret trials, and detention in labour camps and was to pay dearly for this courage. On 8 July 1952, East German intelligence agents abducted and delivered Linse to the KGB. Despite the protests of 20,000 Berlin citizens against his abduction and public pleas by Chancellor Adenauer for his release, Dr Linse was executed in Moscow one year later for "espionage".
This event led to the decision by a group of lawyers to found an organisation dedicated to the defence of human rights through the rule of law. Its inaugural conference in 1952, convened by a group of New York-based attorneys, was attended by thirty one ministers and statesmen, thirty five judges, counsel and presidents of high courts from Eastern and Western Europe and North America. Their agenda was largely shaped by cold war concerns including the denunciation of human rights abuses in the Soviet zone. A J M Bart van Dal (Netherlands) was elected as Secretary-General of the young organisation whose offices were established in The Hague.
In 1953 the ICJ was legally registered as an international non-governmental organisation. It comprised eleven commissioners including senior cabinet ministers and serving judges. The special nature of the organisation ensured privileged access to government. But soon, the cold war dynamics of the organisation were challenged by more progressive elements. Swedish and Greek lawyers sought to expand ICJ efforts to highlight grave injustices in apartheid South Africa, Franco''s Spain and Peronist Argentina. In the following decade the membership of the Commission expanded to truly represent global interests.
In 1956, Norman S. Marsh was appointed as the ICJ''s Secretary-General, directing the ICJ''s efforts towards the search of a clear and universal definition of the Rule of Law, encompassing the world''s different legal traditions. His successor, Dr. Jean-Flavien Lalive, appointed in 1958, continued this work, bringing the ICJ closer to the UN, both physically and politically, through the move of the organisation''s headquarters from The Hague to Geneva and through more pronounced support for international standards and enforcement procedures.
At the congresses in New Delhi, Lagos and Rio de Janeiro, the ICJ defined principles of Rule of Law and Human Rights, in particular on procedural and substantive safeguards required for the proper administration of justice. Through the late 1950''s and early 1960''s, ICJ country reports, trial observations and inquiry committees drew global concern to specific abuses of the rule of law. The defence of the "principles, institutions and procedures which the experience and traditions of lawyers in different countries of the world …have shown to be important to protect the individual from arbitrary government and to enable him to enjoy the dignity of man", cemented the ICJ''s reputation as an impartial defender of human rights and the administration of justice.
Following the short tenure of Sir Leslie Munro from 1961 to 1962, Seàn MacBride was appointed as Secretary-General in 1963. Under his leadership the ICJ assembled a global coalition of non-governmental organisations, began the drive for the appointment of a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and lobbied for improvements to humanitarian law through protocols to the Geneva Conventions.
Commencing in 1970, the twenty-year tenure of Niall MacDermot witnessed the transformation of the ICJ into an organisation that championed rule of law causes with an extraordinary zeal. MacDermot channelled the energies of the ICJ into international standard setting and protection of the rule of law. Within this period, the ICJ made significant contributions to a developing body of international law including the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol, 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 forced disappearances.
Secretary-General Niall MacDermot was responsible for leading the first fact-finding mission to Chile to examine the violations of human rights following the military coup of September 1973. He exposed the atrocities under Idi Amin''s regime in Uganda, published in 1977 the 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.
In 1975 and 1976, the ICJ organised 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 lead to President Senghor 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.
Secretary-General Nial MacDermot''s continuing tenure throughout the 1980s saw the ICJ attending the trial in South Africa of the Reverend Dr Beyers Naudé and editing a full report on the trial, published by Search Press, London. In 1987 the ICJ submitted to the Council of Europe a draft European Convention for the Prevention of Torture, based on a system of visits to places of detention, which was subsequently approved by the Parliamentary Assembly.
The ICJ helped to establish regional non-governmental human rights organisations 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 trial observers to significant political trials on 56 occasions in Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.
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 motivated trials of judges and lawyers, sent missions to nations whose political regimes raised concerns related to the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession, organised conferences, and worked closely with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers. In addition, the CIJL has produced publications containing scholarly works and analytical country reports on the independence of judges and lawyers.
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.
In 1990, Adama Dieng of Senegal was appointed as the first African Secretary-General of the ICJ. Under Mr. Dieng''s guidance, the organisation contributed to the elaboration of various international instruments and strengthened co-operation with institutions such as the Organisation of African Unity and the Council of Europe. Of particular note, the ICJ assisted in the creation of many human rights non-governmental organisations; launched rural development programmes that provided legal services to developing nations; conducted in-depth rule of law country examinations in Tibet and Pakistan; and consolidated the ICJ network in favour of Judges and lawyers harassed and/or persecuted throughout the world. In 1997, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Limburg Principles, the ICJ convened a meeting of more than thirty experts to elaborate on this instrument. The resulting Maastricht Guidelines accomplished this task by expanding upon the nature, scope and appropriate remedies for violations of economic, social and cultural rights.
In the 1990''s, a number of important international developments took place as a result of initiatives by the ICJ. These included the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the recommendation by the Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna to work on the setting up of an International Criminal Court. This was the direct result of an international conference on impunity, organised by the ICJ under the auspices of the United Nations in 1992, which adopted an appeal asking the Vienna conference to "set up an international penal tribunal…in order to finally break the cycle of impunity" . The ICJ also initiated the drafting of the set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights through Action to Combat Impunity and the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, both under examination at the UN Human Rights Commission.
Today, the ICJ is one of the world''s oldest international rule of law / human rights non-governmental organisations. It will continue to provide in-depth legal expertise to back its efforts in the development, promotion and clarification of international standards, and will put greater stress on the actual national implementation of these standards.