In this episode, we continue the conversation with Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska. She is currently nominated as a judge candidate to the International Criminal Court, as she serves as a judge on the Supreme Court of North Macedonia, and she formerly was a judge on the European Court of Human Rights, and at the Constitutional Court of North Macedonia, among many other things.
This discussion builds on our conversation in the previous episode where we discussed her background, her work on corruption and access to justice, especially within the context of the European Court on Human Rights. In this episode, we talk about her candidacy for the International Criminal Court and her thoughts on the future of international law.
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[00:00:08] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Hello and welcome to Just Access. Too many individuals and groups around the world today are denied access to justice. This access is vital for making human rights effective and securing human dignity, especially for those in situations of vulnerability. In this podcast, we speak to academics International legal experts and human rights advocates about hot topics in international law, aiming to expose and highlight situations of injustice and explore possible solutions to these issues, aiming to protect and enforce the rights contained in international treaties.
[00:00:44] My name is Dr. Miranda Melcher, and I’m a Senior Legal Fellow at Just Access. In this episode, I continue my conversation with Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska. She is currently nominated as a judge candidate to the International Criminal Court, as she serves as a judge on the Supreme Court of North Macedonia, and she formerly was a judge on the European Court of Human Rights, and at the Constitutional Court of North Macedonia, among many other things.
[00:01:12] This discussion builds on our conversation in the previous episode where we discussed her background, her work on corruption and access to justice, especially within the context of the European Court on Human Rights. In this episode, we talk about her candidacy to the International Criminal Court and her thoughts on the future of international law.
Interview – Part 2
[00:01:32] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Your career has spanned many different courts, many different areas of expertise, and looks to continue to. The International Criminal Court and the process of judges coming onto the court is ever evolving. It’s obviously still, in many ways, a new institution. Would you mind telling us about your candidacy for the position of a judge on the International Criminal Court? Maybe to start with, why you decided to run?
[00:01:58] Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska : You know, as you’ve said, ICC is a relatively young institution and court compared with ICJ and with the court in Strasbourg. And in these turbulent times, It is a professional challenge to be part of the court, which I’m certain will be passing through a significant reformative processes. And for me it’s a professional challenge to become a part of the court in this crucial, turbulent times.
[00:02:30] From my perspective, the reforms should start within the institutions and they should be initiated by judges and by lawyers. And as a former judge of the court in Strasbourg and now judge at the Supreme Court that works on high level criminal cases, deriving from many complex backgrounds, I’m inspired with the idea of investing my knowledge and experience from national and international courts into the court in the Hague.
[00:03:02] For me, becoming judge of ICC is a big professional inspiration and challenge, to contribute to its further development and improving the work of the court because today is the International Day of Criminal Justice, and I am a true believer in justice and I hope that I can invest my knowledge and experience in ICC.
[00:03:32] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Speaking of reforming the ICC and its processes, there’s a relatively new procedure in place around due diligence with confidential channels to submit allegations of misconduct. With your understanding of how these systems work and where the ICC should be going, how confident are you that the ICC is able to fairly thoroughly investigate accusations, especially anonymous ones?
[00:03:59] Do you think that this new system is too risky? Is it an improvement? What do you think about the reforms that are ongoing in the court?
[00:04:07] Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska : Yes, it’s quite an interesting approach, I must say. The new diligence procedure is just one of the parts of the procedure. So, the final conclusion or the final outcome is like a puzzle. So the due diligence procedure is just one piece of this puzzle. I must admit the election of judges of ICC is a very complex and demanding process.
[00:04:32] Being one of the candidates, it requires a lot of energy and time. Then again, if the idea is to elect judges on the basis of the merits, all this is essential and it will improve and somehow legitimize further the elections. I believe in personal capacities of those who oversee the due diligence procedure and in their capacity to use this chance to improve the system.
[00:05:04] So we will have to be, let’s say, optimist and to observe from the positive side this procedure. In order to avoid the potential risks of weaponizing of allegations because of either political or personal motivations, it is important for the candidates to have the chance to respond to some of these, let’s say unanimous approaches or writings or whatever it will be.
[00:05:32] I think that being myself part of advisory panel of election of the judges of European Court of Human Rights. I must say that some parts of the procedure should be under the confidentiality when it comes to unanimous writings or participation until this is not proved in reality.
[00:05:56] Overall it will be interesting to see what will be the final outcome. But as I said, I believe in professionalism and I believe in ICC as an institution, and that’s why I am candidate nominated.
[00:06:11] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Thinking about the ICC’s work, not just its processes, there’s obviously a relatively recent prosecutor’s report for the UN Security Council about Libya. Russia has had various accusations about the International Criminal Court and where it focuses and what biases it might have. How do you think that the tone, the practical operation, the focus of the ICC will develop over the next few years?
[00:06:38] Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska : Well, ICC is an international organization and court with a clear mandate. And I believe that the ICC as an independent institution acts in the interest of humanity and it is a key player in defining and ensuring international criminal justice, despite the fact that we are speaking about relatively young court with a small number of the cases which are finalized.
[00:07:09] I’m convinced that in the coming years, we will see a stronger, more effective ICC working more successfully. My vision of this court is one in which its work is characterized by stronger efficiency, better work culture of the court and emphasis on its mission to contribute to effective investigations and judicial procedures with final outcome in the fight against impunity.
[00:07:41] In this regard, the length of judicial proceedings is a key factor for a better functioning of the court. As such, trials without undue delay should become a reality and I have experience from this at the national level because Supreme Court is dealing with the legal remedy on length of proceeding.
[00:08:04] And also, European Court of Human Rights was dealing in many cases linked with the fair trial on the question of length of proceeding. And at the same time coming to ICC, it is important to build a general atmosphere of mutual trust, confidence, internally, inside, in the court, and from outside toward the court.
[00:08:31] It is important to ensure a deeper work culture within the court, and also to guarantee the efficiency and proper administration of the court. And I’m among those who believe that a good working culture, good working atmosphere in the institution will influence the length of the proceeding, it will be with influence on the quality of work, and of course on the efficiency.
[00:09:00] And I also think that ICC should be reformed in a way to find its place at the center of the international criminal justice mechanism. The focus should be on ICC in these turbulent times, both in defining and advancing international criminal justice and combating criminal impunity. For that purpose, I think that ICC needs judges, who beyond the necessary formal qualifications have also a solid inner compass and proven commitment to the course of international justice. And that’s why I perceive these elections of four judges, or one third of the judges of ICC as one of the elements we might contribute for better quality of the work of the ICC internally.
[00:09:56] Dr. Miranda Melcher: On the same vein of ways of improving the court, in 2020, there was the expert review of the ICC. Now, there were 384 recommendations, so I’m not going to ask you to rank them all, but are there maybe one, two, or three that you think should be right at the top of the list in terms of priority?
[00:10:15] Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska : Well, you know, bearing on mind, as I said, that we’re living extremely turbulent times with many challenges, I believe that it is of utmost importance to improve the work of ICC. And in my view, the independent expert review recommendations, indeed they’re a lot, 384, but they might serve as a starting point in these processes.
[00:10:43] Between 2020 and 2023, in these three years, some things have been changed also. So, it will be from my perspective of most importance, to implement some of the recommendations as urgent as possible, for example, to improve efficiency and cost efficiency, to enhance the impact of the decisions. I mean, this is important and I was really impressed by some of the recommendations.
[00:11:18] For example, one of the recommendations was to start with opening hubs in the regions where the victims are suffering a huge disadvantages from the fact that they cannot approach easily to the court in the Hague. Then I think one of the recommendations that was mentioned by the report was to engage in constant dialogue with affected local communities and victims.
[00:11:50] So this is my link with the idea of possible opening hubs and this dialogue with communities and victims. I see that the Office of Public Prosecutor in the strategic plan for 2023, 2025 and also ICC, ICG, ICC is mentioning in the strategic plan for the same year, for the same period, the idea to increase the use of digital tools to enable a stronger involvement of a wider number of stakeholders and I think this is part of one of the recommendations that was introduced in the report, and obviously it was accepted and implemented in both documents.
[00:12:39] Then, another recommendation is to establish constant dialogue with judges and senior staff and to ensure a coherent approach within the court inside. And this is important, I will say not only managerial, but also element which is linked with the working methods and the working atmosphere, and I highly appreciate this recommendation mentioned by the experts.
[00:13:07] Then, preparation of guidelines to help victims participation and to build a strong trust fund for the victims. So, for the beginning, I think these are the recommendations, maybe a few of them on a first look, but linked with some other recommendations part of the report that will help the court to work more efficient and more economical and at the same time to be more transparent and open toward the public.
[00:13:41] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Thinking then about the future of the court and your career a bit, as a final question, I’m wondering if you could reflect on all of the many things you’ve done. Is there one thing that jumps out in particular as the most surprising event so far over your career?
[00:13:57] Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska : Well, you know, I have positive and negative surprises in my professional career. I must say. Some are linked with people, others with events. Most important thing is to overcome the negative surprises and to embrace the positive surprises in the best way. I can mention my election as a president of the first section of the European Court in Strasbourg.
[00:14:24] I was surprised by the huge majority of my fellow colleagues. At that time, 36 out of 47 colleagues were voting for my election as a president of first section. And it was a, I will say positive surprise. It was a form of recognition of my previous work and judicial skills, but at the same time, it was a kind of a message that the professionalism and the trust in justice should be always the leading guides for judges.
[00:15:02] But nevertheless, as one of the most inspiring positive surprises, I will identify, coming from my experiences that the voice of justice echoes deep in the ears and the souls of people. It’s amazing how people are perceiving the true justice because the fact that justice should be seen and not only written in a form of the judgments, one can recognize by the reaction of people who are not always lawyers or judges and I’m always positively surprised how they are the sense how to react on justice and clear judicial positive impact on humanity might be seen from time to time. Yes.
[00:15:57] Dr. Miranda Melcher: Thank you, Mirjana, for speaking with us!
[00:16:06] Stay tuned for future Just Access interviews, and do get in touch with us if you have any suggestions for people or topics we should cover.