Meet the International Criminal Court


I am in The Hague and by chance a public pre-trial hearining on the Cote d’Ivoire case is going on, so what a better occasion to go and see the ICC?

It is always strange when something you have always tought about as an abstract institution, a super human creation, turns out to be a tangible reality, a (rather ugly in this case) building, populated by human beings in flesh and bones, who carry the heavy responsibility to embody the abstract principle of “international justice”. (The ugly building has actually a reason: the Court is waiting to be transferred in a new fancy venue, surrounded by a moat like an ancient fortress, but for the moment they have to stay in a concrete block envelopped in electric fence, located in a pretty desolated industrial suburb of The Hague).

Watching the hearings of the ICC is not difficult, one has just to left all belonging at the entrance and than an elevator leads straight to the gallery, which is separated by the court room by a glass wall. There are headphones that allows to listen what is going on beyond the glass wall.

The hearing to me looks very much like a theatre. The different “actors” – the judges, the prosecution, the defence, the legal representative of the victims, the accused – sit according to a precise scheme. When they speak, one can easily guess what they will say: the prosecution will say that it cannot give the names of the witnesses more than two months in advance, and the defence will insist on four months in advance. Of the two accused, only Charles Blé Goudé is present but he just sits quietly, dressed in his distinctive blue blazer, and lets his Dutch lawyer speak on his behalf. I am a bit astonished as he does not seem in any way constrained – security is probably tight, but not that visible. The hearing is all on procedural issues and, I have to say, quite boring. There will be a coup de theatre after I have left, with Blé Goudé leaving the room in apparent polemics with the Court – or perhaps just because he also got bored.

I have studied in Florence with Antonio Cassese: had I asked him to supervise my dissertation at the time, maybe I would have ended up inside this building. The question is: do I regret that or not? The answer, after a morning spent at the ICC is “half yes, half no”.

Half yes, because working for the ICC sounds as being part of history, because the idea of being involved in the prosecution, of judgement, or defence of suspected international criminal is exciting, because maybe the people who work in and around the ICC have not individually so much power, but surely have more power than the type an academic has (such as the power to decide which mark to assign to a paper or if an article has to be published).

Half no: because this power also frightens me, especially since it is elusive and illusionary. Because when a judge of the ICC decides if he can confirm an accusation, he has the illusion of taking a neutral decision, based on the evidence offered to him and the crystalline principle of the law. But, instead, he is only a small cog in a machine that has been already put in motion, whose direction is determined by the global power relations and by the interests of the states.

I guess that it is this – a sensibility for power relations and how they lure beyond the abstract construction of the law – that has pushed me to become a political scientist and not a jurist.

I can see how for the judges of the ICC the principle the law becomes a screen to claim their lack of responsibility, when questioned about issues that to a profane view looks controversial (such as the fact that the only defendants up to now are African). But am I more innocent, I that I claim that I am only an observer? Is not that also a denial responsibility?

It is late now and this is a big question. I leave it for the next posts and go to sleep!



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In the Hague to look at “The future of legal identity”

I am in The Hague in order to participate in a colloquium on “The Future of Legal Identity”, organized by the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) and the Civil Registration Centre for Development (The Hague).  Here is the programme: I will discuss voter registration in Africa and the impact of the recent introduction of biometrics (for a summary of my research on the topic, look here).

We’ll have political scientists, anthropologists, historians, sociologists, but also people from the World Bank, the UN and NGOs. Hopefully this event will be a good occasion to bridge the infamous gap between academics and practitioners.

On a personal note: as always, I boycotted the big Hotels and I found a room with airB&B. Comes out that my landlady is an expert of the Middle East and of Arabic art! Here the official pic on airB&B… you might notice the pictures hanging on the wall!

Could not wish myself best!



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Welcome to my blog!


I am a social scientist (whatever it means) interested in (too) many things, including civil wars and post-conflict reconstruction, international peacekeeping, Sub Saharan Africa, elections, etc. I have lived and worked in many different countries. At the moment, I am based in a happy island of Germanic and North European civilisation called Hamburg, but thanks also to my Italian background, I have retained a certain sceptic attitude towards the world. I think this helps me to understand the settings I am usually studying, which are very different from Hamburg (conflict affected countries, countries with entrenched problems of political governance, corruption, poverty, etc.).

I have decided to open this blog not only for matters of self promotion and vanity (although I cannot deny that they played a role) but also because I have often the feeling that the format of academic publishing and its conventions constrain me. I enjoy the idea of having a space for my thoughts – better if in dispersed order. I also want to reflect a bit here about my peculiar job (how many times people have asked me: “but what do you exactly do”?), its difficulties, contradictions and why I still think that it has a meaning.

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