By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
When International Criminal Court (ICC) Judge Fumiko Saiga, who was based in Seattle as consul general of Japan from September 2000 to July 2002, died of heart failure at age 65 last April, no one was sure who would take her place.
That was until Kuniko Ozaki took on the job. She was elected two months ago.
On Jan. 20, Ozaki was sworn in as an ICC judge and became the second Japanese woman on the ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands. Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi of Argentina was also sworn in.
At the ceremony, Ozaki stated, “I, Kuniko Ozaki, solemnly undertake that I will perform my duties and exercise my powers as a judge of the International Criminal Court honorably, faithfully, impartially, and conscientiously, and that I will respect the confidentiality of the investigations and prosecutions and the secrecy of deliberations.”
Ozaki’s term will last eight years and two months. She brings a well-respected knowledge of international criminal law, humanitarian law, and human rights law to the ICC.
“It is most important for the ICC to expeditiously develop and accumulate best case law and jurisprudence, displaying an international standard and best practices in both substantive and procedural law, to be followed by national and regional criminal justice systems with different legal traditions,” she wrote in an October 2009 questionnaire given to all prospective candidates.
“I hope and believe that my knowledge, expertise, and past experiences will allow me to make a significant contribution in this respect.”
Saiga, from Marugame in Japan’s Kagawa Prefecture, became the first Japanese judge on the ICC in November 2007.
She was later re-elected last January, three months before her death.
At the ICC, she presided over cases involving war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and crimes against humanity.
After her death, Judge Sang-Hyun Song, president of the ICC, said with “great sadness … Judge Saiga’s death is an enormous loss to the court. Her sharp legal acumen and dedication to impartial justice, coupled with her balance and grace, made her an eminently capable jurist. Judge Saiga will forever be remembered for her critical contributions to international criminal justice.”
“Well, it goes without saying … that [Saiga’s career] is not a typical career path for a woman in Japan, even today. But she was very bright and career-focused,” said William Franklin, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and former president of Weyerhaeuser Far East.
Ozaki is regarded as Japan’s leading expert on human rights and humanitarian issues.
She received her bachelor’s degree in international relations from Tokyo University in 1978 and her master’s degree in 1982 from Oxford University.
Ozaki began her career working in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1979.
Starting last April, she conducted research on human rights, international, humanitarian, and international organization law as a professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
From 2006 to 2009, she also served as the director of the division for treaty affairs, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna.
Ozaki is also the co-author of “International Law” and “International Human Rights Law and International Criminal Law.”
Katsuya Okada, Japan’s minister for foreign affairs, stated, “Japan believes that the election of Professor Ozaki in this by-election is significant in that it not only indicates the high evaluation given to her, but also the appreciation of other states for Japan’s enthusiastic posture towards the ICC.”
The Japanese government adds that the election “will enable Japan to make a strong appeal concerning its active efforts for the development of international criminal law and humanitarian law in visible form and contribute to the promotion of the ‘Rule of Law’ in the international community, on which Japan places importance.” ♦
For more information about Judge Kuniko Ozaki, visit www.icc-cpi.int.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.