World Days

17th July, a day symbolising justice or yet another misnomer?

Written by IDCL India July 17, 2021 3 comments

World Day for International Justice

Picture Credits: Centre for Social Justice (CSJ)

“Justice is truth in action”

These are the words said by the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Benjamin Disraeli. Justice is a term that we all are aware of, and a sentiment that has allowed revolutions to happen since time immemorial. From newspapers to the posts on our Instagram, the word “justice” keeps making a recurrence in our lives one way or another. However, there is no universal definition credited to its concept. But, there have been multiple interpretations, arguments, discussions and debates on the same. While on one hand, the famous philosopher Plato regarded it as goodness as well as willingness towards obeyance of laws, on the other hand, the famous utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill described the concept of justice as the best outcome for the greatest number of people. Broadly in the contemporary day, the principle of justice is identified as fairness in the way that people are dealt with. In a society where individuals are interconnected yet differ, institutions and states are needed to enact the principles of justice. Usually, justice is expected to be upheld by the nation-states and their governments, however, the development sector consisting of Non-Governmental Organisations, human rights advocacy groups, and other communities of civil society play an imperative role in upholding this novel virtue.

Sometimes the principles of justice are sustained by its symbols. Symbolism paved its way to announce the 17th of July as the “International justice day” from 1998 onwards. The adoption of the Rome Statute on that day, made way for the new system of International Criminal Justice in the form of the International Criminal Court (ICC) . The day was seen as a historic moment turning a new epoch for the rule of law. It is the world’s first permanent and independent international judicial institution capable of prosecuting individuals for severe violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The International Criminal Court (ICC) does not take the role of national courts, but it is available when a country is incapable or unwilling to conduct investigations or punish perpetrators. The Court’s treaty has been signed by 139 nations. However, it has been ratified by around 80 states, albeit representing every area of the world. Consequently, while the World Day for International Justice holistically celebrates justice, it specifically commemorates the inception of ICC. This specificity around an institution’s sole association with justice draws criticism, especially from the subaltern scholars. Ruben Carranza, the director of the Reparative Justice Program at the International Center for Transitional Justice, argues that, “It is critical to stop conflating the ICC (its establishment and mandate) with “justice” and also somehow describing “justice” as something “international”. Another strong argument on a similar line forwarded by Carranza is how Criminal justice should not be misconstrued as “international justice.” The third interesting point, which a lot of political scientists argue on behalf of, is by drawing parallels between the functioning of the ICC, that is centred around the interests of European countries, and the developed nation-states. 

Keeping the critical lens alive, it becomes only natural to question the significance and relevance of this day.  It’s important for the criticism levied to this day to also consider the relevance that ICC played at the time of globalisation connecting the world in multifarious ways.The ICC was established with the purpose to investigate and try individuals charged with the gravest crimes of concern to the international community. In a world trying to graple through the issues that arise when the relations between different countries are set in a fast speed, a permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression did broaden the overall concept of justice. 

This day while focuses on only the criminal aspect of justice, it also allows a platform to discuss, debate and disseminate information regarding some issues of global importance like violence against women, genocide, etc. The symbolism of the day is upheld only when actual actions around it are incurred. To commemorate this day, various organisations hold awareness drives to highlight some relevant key global concerns. Many countries (mostly European) host high side level events to commemorate  the historic adoption of the Rome Statute and highlight the crucial role of international criminal justice in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG16), which seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies and provide access to justice for all.  But while this day is only symbolic, and even criticized, it makes sense to argue that justice is a spirit that has to live on everyday, and days like these only serve as reminders to reflect on the contemporary issues and the progress achieved in battling them.

A caveat to note here is that the International day of Justice is not to be confused with World Social Justice day, with the former’s relevance being more in line with criminal justice and the latter’s being in line with social justice. But to measure the significance of these days in a larger context, the entire concept of justice needs to be holistically analysed. This day provides an easy bait to two assumptions. The first being a  limitation, as aforementioned, about the day being restricted in its scope to only the workings of ICC, and the other assumption is tied to how it is the responsibility of only the governmental actors to commemorate the day. While the former observations about the day being yet another misnomer might hold some truth in it, to entrust the latter assumption is perilous. Upholding justice is the responsibility of each citizen, and the principles of it are advocated, upheld and shaped largely by the non-governmental actors too. This also includes but is not limited to the role played by the development sector. Non-Governmental Organisations, social-impact organisations, think-tanks working in the research of the nuanced aspects of justice, social and corporate foundations, etc, are also responsible for justice being practiced. In the case of India, for instance, organisations like Centre for Social Justice, a socio-legal NGO, works to strengthen human rights and build  an all inclusive pluralist society, free of violence, injustice and discrimination. Many organisations like CSJ that are part of the development sector are on a day-to-day basis involved in upholding the principles of justice. 

The India Justice Report of 2019 and 2020 paints a remorseful picture for us, revealing how justice is inaccessible to many living in the country. The report analysed expenditure, vacancies, representation of women, human resources, infrastructure, workload, diversity across 18 large and medium-sized states with a population of over 1 crore and 7 small states. The overall ranking is a result of a state’s ranking across the four pillars of the justice delivery system – Judiciary, Police, Prisons and Legal aid. Maharashtra was ranked topmost among 18 states, followed by Tamil Nadu, meanwhile Uttar Pradesh remains last. An inability to deliver justice or maintain the rule of law has led to an increase in violence that has exacted a cost equivalent to 9% of India’s GDP. 

But there is an arguable agreement that finds support across different states of the country, and countries of the world, and that is that justice is something to be achieved everyday, by everyone. The evolution of the concept of justice, and its symbolic aspects, like today’s day of 17th July cannot exist in silos, without actual action, taken everyday to build a more inclusive society not robbed off at the hands of varied crimes. To this end, as we reflect about justice in everyday life and the legitimacy of institutions that claim to be the forebears of it, we can take this opportunity to revisit the words of Nelson Mandela, who spent most part of his life centred around fighting the fallacies of injustice in the world,

Recognize that the world is hungry for action, not words. Act with courage and vision.

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