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Matias Hellman

Born May 16, 1971, Espoo

Master of Arts 2004 (Slavic languages and cultures), University of Helsinki
Master of Laws 2004 (LLM), University of Essex

External Relations Adviser 2010–, International Criminal Court (ICC)
Legacy Officer 2008–2010, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
Liaison Officer 2004–2008, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
Outreach Coordinator 1999–2003, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
Media Analyst 1998–99, Observer Finland

Znati and um(j)eti in Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian. Grammaticalisation of Habitual Auxiliaries. Slavica Helsingiensia, Helsingin Yliopisto, 2005.

The International Criminal Court: the need to foster cooperation, in "Legal dimension of international community: mosaic elements", Centre Européen de Coopération Juridique, 2013. (with Alexander Khodakov and Julie Fraser)

Challenges and limitations of outreach: from the ICTY to the ICC, in "Contested Justice. The Politics and Practice of the International Criminal Court Interventions", Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Photo: Matias Hellman's archive
Written by
Matias Hellman and Tero Juutilainen
Translated by Matthew Billington

Justice without Borders

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is known for large international judicial proceedings. One of the best known of these is probably the investigation into the crisis in Darfur. However, it is seldom remembered that the ICC is a very young organisation, founded only in 2002, and actual operations began even later.

– Previously, national borders had been sacrosanct from the perspective of international law. The international community could not have anything to do with the internal affairs of an independent state. The ICC has brought a significant change to this in the sense that it has even become possible to prosecute a head of state in an international court for crimes committed within national borders.

The ICC is based on voluntary participation from nation states. Its actions are regulated by a statute that determines its jurisdiction, how someone can be indicted, and the progression of legal proceedings. The ICC has no executive power; in practice, the process depends on the cooperation of states with the court. At the moment, the ICC has a total of 123 States Parties from every continent.

– The States Parties include most European countries, all South American countries, most of the Caribbean, as well as Central and North American countries, the majority of African countries and around a third of Asian countries. Finland has been a very active member and has done even more than has been asked, for example in the form of voluntary donations to the ICC’s Trust Fund for Victims, where Elizabeth Rehn served for many years as the Chair of the Board of Directors. The long-serving Finnish judge Erkki Kourula retired from the ICC in the spring of 2015.

ICC President Judge Song and ICC external relations advisor Matias Hellman attend the CICC Europe Strategy Meeting 2013. Photo from the Coalition for the ICC.

Many doubt that individual nations benefit in any way from an international criminal court. The purpose of the ICC, however, is not just to try crimes but to prevent them from occurring.

– Along with individual investigations and trials, the ICC plays a role in strengthening the international justice system. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court offers a model to national justice systems for criminalising war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and the prospect of international trials encourages nations to deal with such crimes in their own courts. In this way it becomes possible to deter atrocities and war crimes on a global level. This is what motivates me in my current work at the ICC.

There is still a long way to go before the Court has a truly global presence. 123 States Parties is far more than many supporters of the ICC had thought could be reached in under 15 years, but over 70 countries are still outside the system, including China, the Russian Federation, the United States, India and Pakistan as well as the majority of Arab countries.

– Every country makes its own decision on whether or not to join international treaties, there is no obligation to do so. The reasons for not joining can be related to foreign or domestic policy, constitutional issues, or a lack of resources. But States Parties can of course encourage other nations to at least consider joining. The ICC has been active itself on this front, by meeting high ranking representatives of nations outside the Rome Statute and by raising global awareness of the Court and its activities. This is also necessary with existing States Parties, because attitudes there can also be partly negative and awareness of the ICC limited.

The ICC has an ever-growing presence in social media.

– The ICC is constantly thinking how to make the best use of social media in communication and spreading awareness. Twitter is one place where the ICC is very active. Recognition and international support are extremely important. As a court there are naturally limits to what we can do; you cannot go overboard with communication, because you run the risk of losing credibility.

Matias Hellman giving an interview to the media in July, 2006, in Grabovica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo from ICTY.


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