Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands. © 2018 Marina Riera/Human Rights Watch

The 123 member countries of the International Criminal Court (ICC) face critical decisions in elections this December for the court’s next prosecutor and six new judges. The ICC is a court of last resort for the world’s worst crimes and is often victims’ only hope for justice. It is facing unprecedented threats to its independence, as the United States continues its efforts to thwart certain investigations. This – along with a review to strengthen the court’s delivery of justice – mean it’s crucial that these elections result in the strongest possible leadership for the ICC.

To achieve this, member countries will need to elect candidates based on merit, and reject vote-trading or other deal-making that often mars elections for international positions.

To help countries assess candidates, human rights groups have issued questionnaires to the 4 candidates shortlisted for ICC prosecutor and the 20 candidates nominated by governments for judgeships. It is hoped that the questionnaires – which more than two dozen groups have endorsed and which probe candidates’ vision, background, experience, and views on international justice – will help ensure fair, merit-based, and transparent elections.

Similar questionnaires have attracted responses from nearly all candidates for ICC positions in past elections. Responses to the questionnaires are expected later this month and will be made public. Together with public hearings with the candidates and reports from specialized committees, they can add to the information countries have at their disposal as election processes advance.

For the all-important prosecutor’s election, ICC countries are seeking to identify a consensus candidate from those shortlisted in June. The list has attracted controversy and it’s unclear if countries will reach beyond those short-listed to additional candidates. If so, they risk sidestepping an important, albeit imperfect, innovative process put in place to guard against politicization of this election. If they seek additional prosecutorial candidates, they will need to adhere to fundamental principles of transparency and fairness. Countries should do all they can to root their decisions in merit, not politics. We and others will be following closely to check they do.