Frequently Asked Questions

Have a question about Partners in Justice International?

We are frequently (and sometimes infrequently) asked questions (FAQ) about our organisation and our work. We were pleased to answer many of these questions during the PJI Launch! event in March 2021, and we have included video clips of those answers below. Because we were not able to answer every question posed in the time allowed, we have done our best to provide answers here. And, we are happy to keep the conversation going. Please get in touch if you have thoughts or further questions. We love to talk about our work!

How did each of PJI’s founders come to this work?

Max and Kathy came to this work by different paths. Max was a war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and she was an investigator at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Kathy was Legal Director at the Center for Justice and Accountability, a victim lawyer investigating and trying atrocity crimes cases in the courts of third countries (usually the United States). Both saw the need for victims to see justice where they live. Both heard the call of local justice practitioners seeking support to make that happen. They founded PJI to respond to this call.

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What does the phrase “Access to Justice at Home” mean to PJI?   

We envision a world in which victims and survivors of grave crimes have access to tangible and effective justice – wherever they live – not only in international tribunals and foreign courts.

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What is PJI’s unique methodology?

PJI’s capacity building through partnership method empowers local justice actors to challenge impunity for grave crimes, advance justice for victims where they live, and build resilience to sustain peace and democracy long term.

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Does PJI represent survivors directly in litigation?

No, we do not. We leverage our experience by supporting local practitioners. Prosecuting or representing victims directly, we can bring justice to only a few victims.  Supporting peer prosecutors and victim representatives in numerous national jurisdictions, we can multiply the impact of our work to serve hundreds and even thousands more victims.

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What is PJI’s victim-centric methodology?

PJI’s victim-centric approach is reflected in every aspect of our practice. Justice serves the survivors in the affected communities.  A victim-centric method respects the victims’ agency; their right to make choices about their participation in the justice process.

Victims and survivors deserve justice close to home; justice which involves and includes them; justice which empowers rather than sacrifices them; justice which honours their courage and respects their constraints;  justice which considers their needs as a core consideration rather than an afterthought; justice which uplifts them rather than further victimising them; justice which paves the path for other victims to come forward; justice which is accessible, tangible, visible, and transformative.

To repurpose the old slogan: Nothing about them, without them, is for them. 

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Why is the work of PJI necessary right now?

Although there are several groups and organizations doing important work in this space, the sad truth is that the most justice needs fall on local prosecutors, local investigators, and local justice or victim organizations. Without access to specialized knowledge on how to move international crimes cases forward, victims may find themselves waiting for a justice that will never come. The need is urgent.

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How is PJI’s approach unique?

PJI works on the understanding – based on our years of practice of international criminal law as victim representatives and victim-centred prosecutors – that the success of these cases is often directly proportionate to the strength of the relationship between the victim representatives and the state justice practitioners.  And we put that experience in service of building, often mending, or even strengthening those relationships in the context of advancing the goal they share of justice for the victims. We help the prosecutors understand that empowerment of victims is not only good for the survivors themselves but is also actually good litigation and prosecution strategy. 

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Why is PJI a non-profit organisation?

We believe in the model, which requires sustained engagement to have impact over the long term. We want to institutionalize the work, advance the approach, and promote the model so that we can grow and create an even greater impact over the long term.  

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What is the impact of PJI’s work?

We are working to strengthen the rule of law and human rights in transitional societies for the long term.  We deliver concrete systemic change. 

Our direct beneficiaries – justice actors working on serious crime cases — are a relatively small group of people in each location.  We target this small group of people because they are the ones who create this huge impact.  Once they have our methodology, they can pass it on to their colleagues and their successors.

Our methodology (which comes from international criminal practice) becomes embedded in the national justice system; and it then becomes their methodology.  The next time the victim representatives bring cases to the prosecutors, they are more likely to get access to justice.

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What has been the impact of COVID 19 on access to justice for international crimes?

PJI has been keeping our eyes on the human rights situation in the countries where we live and work, and we continue to be vigilant with respect to access to justice for victims of grave crimes. Many of the communities we serve have been dramatically affected, and we stand with them in solidarity and grief. At the same time, the world’s attention is moving in the other direction, and we are seeing the bad actors and their allies consolidating power to ensure their own impunity and avoid accountability.  This alarming situation makes our work all the more critical. 

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Are there more or different barriers for victims of conflict-related sexual violence to accessing justice?

Although there is no higher evidentiary standard for sexual torture rather than non-sexual torture, in practice, courts are still requiring a disproportionate amount of evidence in relation to crimes of sexual violence. This stems from systemic inequality, which unfortunately infuses the justice system in the Global North as well as the Global South.  Our peers face this challenge when bringing cases involving conflict-related sexual violence, in particular where there is a lack of forensic or medical evidence and where, therefore, the cases are prosecuted primarily with reliance on witness testimony.  This is where we see deep seeds of discrimination play out in the justice system.  We provide technical tools to help our peer victim representatives and prosecutors overcome these obstacles. When working with our peers, we share trial strategies which serve to cultivate gender equality in the courtroom while also ensuring that the existing systemic inequalities do not impede effective prosecutions.

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Is PJI’s mission essentially colonial, sending Global North ideas to the Global South?

Our aim is to decolonize international justice by empowering prosecutors and victim representatives (whether in the Global South or elsewhere) to shift the power of accountability litigation from international and foreign courts back into local hands.   

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How does PJI choose where to work?

PJI considers political will to be a necessary condition for engagement in a particular system. Additional necessary conditions for our accompaniment programme include:

  • A country where atrocity crimes have been committed;
  • Local practitioners are ready to try/are trying to prosecute or litigate;
  • There is a system where justice seems possible consistent with human rights;
  • Our help is needed and wanted (we have access); and
  • Our security/logistics and victim/practitioner security logistics are feasible.

In addition, PJI prioritises accompaniment programme work where we believe we can have the greatest impact. That is, we prioritise work in jurisdictions where:

  • There are few comparable organisations and individuals working (so we can add value);
  • There is a likelihood of impact for victims (through prosecution or other litigation);
  • The crimes were committed twenty or more years ago (increasing the urgency of need since  witness memories fade);
  • The timing of our work will be responsive to local conditions, with an eye to the geopolitical context; and
  • There is an opportunity to shift the discourse around CRSV and gender toward greater gender equality and inclusivity.

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What is the difference between the terms “victim” and “survivor” in this work?

Individuals who have suffered grave international crimes or human rights abuses have the right to determine what they wish to be called. For many, the use of the term “survivor” is considered more empowering. In some jurisdictions, the term “victim” conveys a legal status in the justice system, providing the basis for access to justice; and many victims choose to use that term. Finally, not all victims survive, so the term “victim” may be seen as more inclusive.

How does PJI address cultural difference in practicing victim-centred justice?

PJI’s victim-centric approach reflects our deep commitment to human rights and human equality. Within the bounds of this commitment, we aim to decolonise international justice by empowering local justice actors. This means we must not only identify and mitigate harmful biases and practices embedded in our own cultural backgrounds and institutions; we must not only adapt our work to local conditions, meanings, and practices; but we must also ensure that our contributions in each context are locally driven and informed. Thus, with humility and respect, we partner with our local colleagues to give victims ownership in the justice process. Putting the victims in the driver’s seat, in turn, can have a transformative impact on the affected communities.

How do you adapt your toolkit in new areas?

You might be surprised at how little adaptation of the toolkit is required from country to country. Of course, working in both civil and common law jurisdictions, we take account of the legal system, the legal code, judicial structures and cultures, the histories of the relationships of the various stakeholders (local, foreign, and international), and most importantly, the goals and requests of our local colleagues in creating, adapting, and tailoring these tools.  However, we find many of the same challenges everywhere we work, and we find that our tools are broadly applicable to overcoming these challenges in most cases.

Often at the national level there is also lack of practical capacity building, not just a lack of knowledge. How does PJI address this?

Although we offer training, PJI is primarily focused on practical capacity building at the national level. PJI’s projects in our flagship accompaniment programme often commence with training in the methodology and legal tools for building and litigating complex criminal cases. The training modules which form the curriculum of this training serve as the foundation for the accompaniment which most often follows training.

In our accompaniment projects, PJI works with our local colleagues at their request in their current case files, applying the theory of international criminal practice concretely. We provide sustained technical support for collecting, organising, analysing and preserving evidence to prosecute complex criminal cases. We accompany our colleagues, offering horizontal, case-based support throughout the process of preparing and prosecuting these cases through trial.

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Is there a danger that local investigators could be accused of collaborating with civil society documenters, by those who may still have power and influence in those societies?

Yes, local professionals investigating or litigating international crimes face unique hurdles, risks, and pressures, especially in countries that have only recently emerged from periods of conflict or abuse. Part of our work involves supporting them in finding ways to work towards justice while taking into account the security and other risks involved. Government and private actors may find collaboration risky. PJI believes that alliances between committed people in public and private practice can plant the seeds of justice, but we are realistic about the context and try to find contextually appropriate solutions.

Could you give a “fer instance” of a trial strategy (for say prosecuting gender violence) that you’ve shared with local attorneys to help them with prosecutions?

Certainly! One example arose in the context of Kathy and Max’s work in Guatemala. Working with both the prosecutors of the Internal Armed Conflict prosecution unit and lawyers representing the victims in a case centred on sexual slavery, they were asked for concrete suggestions on ways to empower the survivors at trial. They produced this memo outlining several ways to do that. And here is a more recently updated version in English.

To what extent do you feel that specialised training will – or will not – be needed for local practitioners in conflict-affected countries to handle such gross violations of international human rights law/war crimes, and, if such training is needed, who do you envisage will provide it? As you know, the need for specialised training of national judicial system officers for handling such crimes has been a persistent obstacle in many conflict-affected countries (e.g., in East Timor/Timor-Leste, in CAR, in Sudan).

In most post-conflict or post-dictatorship situations, the local justice system requires support and specialised training at every level. PJI’s contribution is only a small, if highly specialised, part of the broader rule-of-law ecosystem. PJI focuses on supporting serious crime prosecutors, victim representatives, and investigators because they are in the best position to open pathways to justice for victims where they live. Thus, PJI engages in effective coordination and collaboration with other international institutions and partners to ensure our targeted contribution makes the best possible impact for our local colleagues and the victims and communities they serve.

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How do you balance the need for professionalising prosecutorial work with the growing use of the law to clamp down on the freedoms of expression and association of perceived political opponents? Do you have a methodology for identifying the potential prosecutors will abuse their authority to continue this trend?

PJI employs ethical guidelines from the start, both in terms of which situations and with which partners we will engage for accompaniment programming. We assess the situation and potential partners as best we can, but there are no shortcuts to determining who is trustworthy and who has integrity. That works both directions, by the way. We work over an extended period, giving us and our partners a longer view of each other.  

We usually work with a focused group of highly experienced prosecutors and victim lawyers, people who are working on the most serious crimes, often at a risk to themselves and their families. Generally, we find our colleagues in civil society and government to be deeply critical of each other. An advantage of our model, then, is that we often get to know our colleagues with from 360-degree perspective.  That enables us to facilitate greater collaboration and break down the barriers that have delayed justice for victims. 

There is a problem for very courageous prosecutors and investigating judges with political pressure that makes it difficult for them to pursue some of these cases. Is that something that your methodology can assist with?

Yes, political pressure and threats unfortunately pose all-too-common problems. We work with our local partners to find ways to move forward safely and realistically within their constraints, and that includes taking account of both the political and security environment.

In addition, facilitating public-private collaboration can lead to some uncommon solutions. Civil society organisations are generally better positioned to put pressure on those in power, with the ability to speak out on issues where government actors may not be in a position to do so – helping to move these cases forward in a way which the government officials might not have been able to do on their own. In turn, government actors often have access to security information and victim and witness protection measures that are not available to private actors, but which can facilitate the work of civil society actors in support of these cases.  

How can PJI help in national systems that may not have the necessary tools in place – for example – countries where there are no provisions for protection of witnesses?

Our aim is to help our local partners with whatever pieces they may be missing. In this example, protection of witnesses would be a necessary precondition to their ability to move forward, so we would work with them on that before we would help them move a case forward. If the system is inadequate, we help them think how they can strengthen it. We also facilitate collaboration with other experts and organisations where the need is outside our specific expertise.

How will you assess (or might your local partners assess) whether certain cases in countries where you work should be litigated in international courts rather than the domestic legal system?

Under international law, with a few exceptions, the default court is the court of the country where the crimes took place. If that country is unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute such crimes, then, in some cases, the International Criminal Court or a foreign court or ad hoc tribunal may invoke jurisdiction. It is rare indeed for an international court or tribunal to assert jurisdiction over certain crimes in priority over the appropriate national courts.  

For this reason, most victims of conflict-related sexual violence and other war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, rarely see justice for the atrocities they survived. International justice mechanisms – although powerful tools – ultimately adjudicate but a fraction of the crimes committed, bringing justice to a handful of victims at best.  The vast majority of victims and survivors remain at home, or in displacement, awaiting justice which may never come.  Furthermore, even where a case is heard at the international level, the other cases from that jurisdiction will ultimately need to be litigated at home – so there is always a fundamental responsibility which lies with national justice practitioners.

Will you or have you published your experiences, strategies and methodologies?

We have not yet published a comprehensive guide to our method, but we would like to share it and pass it on. We have published some of our methods and principles in the context of articles, including an earlier version of Max’s Evidence Checklist.

Find out more:

Marcus, Maxine. Positive (and Practical) Complementarity: Practical Tools for Peer Prosecutors and Investigators Bringing Atrocity Crimes Cases in National Jurisdictions, International Criminal Investigations: Law and Practice, Eleven International Publishing, 14 December 2017 | 1st edition | 342 pp., ISBN 978-94-6236-779-1, EISBN 978-94-6274-749-4.

Do you have any plans to pursue accountability against financial institutions and/or corporate actors for their role in the financing of atrocity crimes? In other words, is that a part of the model/ toolkit for local partners?

Yes, PJI works with partners who prioritise these types of perpetrators. Financial institutions and corporate actors implicated in grave crimes should be held accountable. However, PJI does not have, for example, forensic accountants on staff. When PJI does not have the requisite expertise on staff, we draw on international networks of accountability professionals, including forensic anthropologists, criminal and military analysts, security experts, psychologists, statisticians, archivists, private attorneys, communications experts, and even forensic accountants.

Does PJI enlist university students to support its mission? 

PJI generally accepts second and third-year law student interns each semester and during the summer term. Exceptional first-year law students may be considered for the summer term.

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Does PJI recruit help for the home team?

Yes, we do!

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