The Interview | Samuel Emonet


How would you present your organization in a few words? What entails your position? What is your goal? 

I was appointed in May 2022 to be the Executive Director of Justice Rapid Response, the only global facility that provides rapidly deployable specialized justice experts to assist with investigations of reported war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious human rights violations. Justice Rapid Response is a not-for-profit organization based in Geneva, with a small liaison office in New York.

It is from Geneva that my team responds to requests for justice expertise from international organizations, States, and civil society organizations. We do so by deploying experts from our roster of 700 carefully selected and vetted justice experts to countries in conflict or post-conflict situations.

We have delivered a significant impact thanks to the work of our experts. Just to give two examples, in 2021, major milestones were marked in the quest for justice for atrocities carried out by the so-called Islamic State (or ISIL) against the Yazidi minority in Iraq and Syria. Five defendants on trial in Germany were found guilty of committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The expertise in gathering evidence provided by Justice Rapid Response to the civil society organization Yazda in Iraq enabled the identification of crucial witnesses and victims in all these cases. 

As recently as July 2022, The Gambia’s High Court has convicted six members of the former National Intelligence Agency for their role in the 2016 killing of political activist Solo Sandeng who had died in custody two days after his arrest. At the request of The Gambia Attorney General’s Chambers, we deployed a forensic team, which carried out the analysis of a set of human remains connected to this case. Their findings and expert witness testimonies provided evidence that played a critical role in securing the conviction.



Among the concentration of actors in Geneva (IOs, NGOs, permanent missions, academia, and the private sector), who do you work with and how?

Due to the nature of its role, Justice Rapid Response works closely with many international and local organizations as well as with States represented in Geneva. The most obvious example of such collaboration is our work in partnership with UN Women and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Working together, we provide specialized expertise to the investigations mandated by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. As a result of this collaboration, Justice Rapid Response deploys highly specialized expertise to virtually all investigations mandated by the Council to work on sexual and gender-based violence and violations against children. Our contribution has made these under-reported violations much more visible, pushing the international community to address them for the benefit of victims and survivors.



What are the strengths and weaknesses of Geneva with regards to the development of your activity?

It is crucial for Justice Rapid Response to be in close contact with all the stakeholders participating in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, including States, UN entities, and civil society organizations. All of these can potentially benefit from expert support from Justice Rapid Response to strengthen their work and ensure that victims have access to justice. 

Geneva is also a centre of competence in peacebuilding with the Geneva Peace Building Platform, as well as on international human rights law with the Geneva Academy, the University of Geneva, and the Graduate Institute. Geneva is hosting some of the best civil society organizations in our sector, such as TRIAL, Civitas Maxima, Legal Action Worldwide, and the Global Survivor’s Fund. This allows Justice Rapid Response to connect with a whole range of specialists, finding synergies and improving our work and impact.

Of course, the cost of living in Geneva makes it an expensive place for a not-for-profit organization to be based, but it is worthwhile for the reasons explained above.



What do you think global governance should look like 20 or 30 years from now?

The most pressing issues of our time – including tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and biodiversity, the energy crisis, data protection in digitalization, and the development of artificial intelligence – have direct implications on all individuals, their fundamental rights, their sense of justice and by way of consequence their trust in our democratic institutions. These problems cannot be addressed in isolation and require a global response. Some of these issues will raise international tensions and conflicts, with more competition for resources such as land, water, food, and energy. Against this backdrop, the conflict-prevention role of global governance institutions and their efforts to promote human rights and humanitarian law are crucial to avoiding a disaster.

More specifically, in the sector of justice and accountability the role of global governance will remain critical. In a world where tensions are likely to be exacerbated, the International Criminal Court and the Human Rights Council will have to constantly demonstrate their professionalism, impartiality, and capacity to capture and address the needs of justice for all victims. This is where Justice Rapid Response can play a major role because we can support these institutions with the experts from our diverse and representative roster.



What question would you like to have been asked?

Justice Rapid Response’s work is sensitive by nature – how do you make sure that it is safe and impartial?

To make sure that our work is safe, consistent, and impartial, each time a partner approaches us to ask for expert support, we analyze the request to ensure that it is in conformity with international law, devoid of political motivation, and safe for the experts, as well as for the victims and witnesses. If this is the case, we will find the best experts for the job on our roster, with the appropriate technical and language skills, as well as cultural affinity with the context of the investigation. Once selected by the partner, we deploy the expert who will then report exclusively to the partner and not to Justice Rapid Response. This is our way of ensuring that investigations into the worst crimes known to humanity are professional, impartial, and prompt, which is crucial for the credibility of accountability processes.


Samuel Emonet's biography

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