We are living in chaotic times. It will be remembered as a period of renewed conflict, religious and cultural intolerance, a void of accountability, and thriving impunity. It will also be remembered as a time of hopelessness and despair. New and old autocratic regimes around the globe engage in practices of persecution, displacement and destruction. Such regimes use the arms of government to circumvent the rule of law and seize judicial, law enforcement and state security institutions. The question is what can be done. Some think that one person, one act, cannot make a difference. They can. By placing a small charge at the base of a great dam, the ensuring pressure that slowly builds up can bring the dam down.
That is why we at The Guernica Group seek to address mass human rights violations through transnational accountability strategies that are much more than just a legal tool; they are strategies that aim to make a lasting impact. We strive to understand the particular needs and contexts. We partner with key local and international actors together with the victims and their communities, placing small charges in the dams of autocracy to create the pressure needed to bring real change. That is the Guernica approach.
In November 2016, I embarked on an adventure, together with barrister Toby Cadman, to establish a new legal group that began with Guernica37 International Justice Chambers in London, the first mission-driven UK Barristers’ Chambers dedicated exclusively to international and transnational legal work.
In January 2017, with lawyer Maite Parejo, we established an office in Madrid named G37 Despacho Internacional, from which we are collaborating with Spanish civil society organisations to support the rights to truth and justice of the victims of international crimes committed during the dictatorship. Creating G37 was my personal aspiration: it allowed us to finally build a strategic justice initiative in my home country, a project that could recognize the legacy of the Spanish civil society and institutions to strengthen Universal Jurisdiction.
Today, it is an honour for me to share with you that with the pro bono support of lawyers from Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hamilton LLP, we have incorporated the third arm of our project, the Guernica Centre for International Justice (GCIJ) in the United States, a 501(c)(3) non-profit law firm. The GCIJ is the third part of an innovative international legal practice devoted to representing individual victims and designing and implementing comprehensive accountability strategies to investigate and ultimately prosecute international crimes and human rights violations with an eye towards impacting their communities. Over the last 20 years, we have witnessed the development of international criminal law without sufficient focus on the victims. We have now reached the point where we are talking about a crisis in accountability. The lack of parity between the legal representation of victims and perpetrators is at the core of the problem in both international and national justice efforts. GCIJ’s mission is to address that inequality. We believe that if the legal representation and participation of the victims is improved and empowered, we could responsibly address this accountability crisis and be more effective.
At GCIJ, we believe that only through such comprehensive accountability efforts can a society tainted by atrocities confront denial and come to terms with its past, opening the door to the necessary social transformation to secure legal security and non-recurrence. To contribute to this goal, a creative and informed interpretation of the norms and use of the legal tools at hand, are crucial; this is where Guernica’s reason to be lies. We form coalitions with community leaders, and local civil society actors and organizations to develop knowledge exchange platforms and familiarity with legal cultures, in order to expand litigation strategies, build local capacity, work closely with clients from these communities and identify the most appropriate time to act.
These three organisations—Guernica37 in London, G37 in Madrid and GCIJ in California—comprise The Guernica Group. With this three-prong model, we secure specialized capability in civil law and common law legal systems as well as in international justice mechanisms. The three branches of Guernica share aspirations and expertise with each other with the ultimate goal to ensure that victims and their communities have the highly technical, specialized and thoughtful representation they deserve. Our current work includes:
South America, we are working in Colombia and Venezuela, both countries providing key challenges and opportunities to create accountability precedents that could substantially change the trend of impunity that have characterized parts of the region for decades. We have initiated criminal investigations for the Special Jurisdiction for Peace in Colombia arising from crimes in four of the areas most affected by the decades of conflict. We have filed a communication before the ICC on crimes against humanity recently committed in Venezuela.
Central America, where the Jesuits’ massacre case going to trial in 2019 could foster new accountability processes in El Salvador and the region. We are beginning new work in Nicaragua in partnership with national lawyers, strategizing on accountability.
The Middle East, with Syria and Libya as the most paradigmatic examples of atrocities committed during sustained civil conflicts. As a tragic consequence of the collective cry for regime and social change that arose in the Arab Spring, the political scenario of the whole region dramatically has changed. The Guernica Group filed the first criminal complaint before a national court against the leadership of the Syrian military intelligence and security forces and is currently taking this issue before the Spanish Supreme Court. Our team also filed a communication before the ICC on the situation on Libya.
South Asia, where international action is crucial to demand the governments of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar prioritize adequate truth-seeking mechanisms and effective justice to prevent further abuses. We have filed a communication before the ICC on the situation on Bangladesh and an amicus brief in the Court’s territorial jurisdiction over crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar.
West Africa, The Gambia, Liberia and Nigeria being leading examples of victim-led transitional efforts, which have acquired a marked international character, with various national and international organisations coordinating efforts to secure true transitional processes that will not succeed without authentic accountability; Guernica has joined the central coalition of victims and civil society organisations leading transitional and accountability efforts in The Gambia.
Today, I would like to invite you to join our Guernica Family.
In July 2018, the GCIJ obtained 501(c)(3) status. The GCIJ now has the opportunity to receive funds from individual donors and thereby create and expand a U.S.-based Guernica team comprised of extraordinary lawyers with international reputations. At the center of these efforts, in addition to my own role, is Paul Hoffman, a principal in our Guernica team and, as many of you well know, one of the leading U.S. human rights lawyers of the past two decades. We believe that this newly-established GCIJ initiative is coming to fruition at a most opportune moment, given the human rights crisis that the U.S. and the world are currently experiencing.
Guernica prides itself on being an efficient model; Guernica37 International Justice Chambers underwrites key costs and with the generous support of international Foundations that are deeply engaged in our in-country work highlighted above. However, a solid core of individual donors would allow us to devote more pro bono hours and most importantly, to represent victims and their communities and engage with them to become more directly involved in the justice-seeking work.
As the holiday season approaches, I am reaching out to you, my closest friends and allies, who share my and Guernica’s vision and commitment to truth, justice and accountability to join us. We will mark your response to this request for support by designating you as a Founding Supporter of the GCJI. For me, this name is significant because your generosity in donating to The Guernica Group, via our U.S. arm, would signify your recognition of the hard work and enduring commitment to international justice that is at the core of everything I, and my partners at Guernica, have done and continue to do. It is who we are. Please consider donating through our webpage (https://www.guernicagroup.org) or by sending your contribution to the address below.
The Guernica team will send you a letter of gratitude confirming the receipt of the donation.
Have a wonderful and safe holiday season. Let us hope for a new and more peaceful year,
With warmest regards,
The Guernica Group
Two Embarcadero Center, Eighth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94111