Dr. Aaron Matta is a senior researcher in the Rule of Law Programme at The Hague Institute for Global Justice. In this week’s My Justice, he talks about how being the son of a diplomat sparked his interest in law and justice, and how working at the International Criminal Court gave him an insight into the practical aspects of his research.
“There are so many understandings of what justice means, which is tricky. To me justice means fairness and accountability – the protection of rights and punishment of wrongs. The challenge is to promote a common understanding of justice and implement it globally, which is what the work of our institute is about.
“As the son of a diplomat, I became interested in international law and international relations at an early age. I travelled around the world, living in different countries in Latin America and around Eastern and Western Europe. I saw different cultures and systems, gaining an insight into how law and politics interact, having the advantage of witnessing it first-hand.
“My interest in international justice issues arose when I wrote a Master’s thesis on the ICC at Sussex University. From there, I was fortunate enough to interview former Prosecutor Moreno Ocampo for my dissertation, which later led to an internship in his office. Moreover, my previous experience in Russia – where I initially studied – drove me towards another research area, that of rule of law promotion. In particular, how the EU promotes its rules, norms and values in the post-Soviet space. I subsequently wrote my PhD on this topic at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
“Although I initially had experience as an academic and as a researcher, I needed some more tangible and practical experience. Getting the opportunity to work at the ICC, to me, was something I could not refuse. I was very keen to work there. It gave me a very practical experience of the day-to-day work. Watching the news or reading academic articles, though interesting, is very abstract when it comes to the work carried out by the ICC. While working within the Investigation’s and Prosecution’s Divisions of the Office of the Prosecutor, I experienced challenges daily. That was an invaluable experience and, at times, challenging and frustrating too. I have a lot of respect for the people working there.
“I have lived in The Hague for almost 5 years. After the ICC, I moved to the Asser Institute and recently, I started working at the Hague Institute for Global Justice. I started with one line of research and that incidentally led to another, though they both are interlinked, particularly due to the current attention on Ukraine.
“First, I am interested not only in the mechanisms and instruments used in rule of law promotion, but also the issues related to improving coordination among international donors. For example, how can donors better implement support for justice systems reforms to create a rule of law culture that goes beyond legislation or the law itself? We recently organised an event together with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on trust in judicial institutions in the Eastern Partnership countries, where we invited government officials, civil society representatives and academics from the region, as well as practitioners from different donor organisations to discuss how to improve the lack of trust in judicial institutions in these countries. One of the highlights of the event was that more transparency and coordination from judicial bodies, but also from donors, is required if rule of law promotion is to succeed.
“Secondly, I deal with the relationship between the ICC and state cooperation. The ICC was created as an independent judicial body. Nevertheless, it lacks direct enforcement mechanisms and must totally rely on the action and cooperation of states to exercise its function. The challenges posed by this situation can and already are hindering the work of the Court. We recently organised a conference together with the British Embassy in The Hague on international legal diplomacy, tackling the intersection between international law, justice and diplomacy. The conference focused on better and more efficient diplomacy to improve the existing mechanisms and procedures for cooperation.
“At The Hague Institute, we engage as an interface between academic experts and practitioners to exchange views and facilitate knowledge sharing, also via capacity-building activities. We also interact with the media, translating the difficult legal language of the courts and tribunals in The Hague for a broader audience.
“It is a very interactive and demanding job, but it’s at the heart of what the city of The Hague represents: the true capital of global justice and rule of law, and I am proud to be part of it.”
(Photo: Niklas Jakobsson/Justice Hub)
My Justice highlights the stories of individuals who work in the field of international justice or who have been affected by it and asks what does justice mean to them.