2021 will be a milestone for the International Commission on Civil Status (ICCS). Driven by a powerful internationalisation movement, the new internal regulation of ICCS entered into force on 1 January 2021.
I have interviewed Nicolas Nord, the Secretary General of ICCS, on the Commission’s work, functioning and challenges.
— Can you remind us what the ICCS is and the scope of its activities?
The ICCS is an international organisation created in 1949. The seat is in Strasbourg, in France. Its objectives are to facilitate international co-operation in civil-status matters and to further the exchange of information between civil registrars. A practical approach has always been privileged. The idea is to deal with concrete issues that arise in the daily activity of national authorities.
To achieve the general aims, the ICCS draws up normative instruments. 34 international conventions and 11 recommendations have been adopted till today. Comparative law studies are also carried out. The goal is always the same: harmonizing the provisions in force in the member States on matters relating to the status and capacity of persons, to the family and to nationality and improving the operation of civil-status departments in those States.
It materializes in different ways and has given rise to the creation of original methods. This is the case with multilingual civil status forms which allow any State authority to understand an act issued in another State Party, without having to face the problem of translation. It is an essential tool that also makes life easier for individuals. This is why Convention n° 16 has been so successful. It is in force in 24 States. Uniform acts such as certificates of matrimonial capacity (convention n° 20) or of life (convention n° 27) have also been created. There are the same in all the States parties. Another aspect is cooperation between authorities. Different conventions allow a direct international communication between the civil registrars. This allows for simplified updating of civil status documents in the various States Parties (convention n°3, 23 and 26).
The ICCS also compiles and keeps up to date a documentation on legislation and case-law setting out the law of the member States on the matters falling within its field of competence and provides, on the basis of that documentation, information to the national authorities.
— The ICCS recently adopted a new internal regulation. Can you tell us more about it?
The will of the member States is to modernize the organisation, to adapt it to new challenges and to make it more attractive. Some essential reforms have thus been introduced. Three examples may be given. English becomes the second official language of the organisation, alongside French. Membership is no longer reserved for states but also open, from now on, to any international organisation, any regional economic integration organisation and any other international entity. Membership procedure has been simplified. An approval by the General Assembly is the only requirement.
— What’s in it for the European Private International Law community?
The birthplace of ICCS is in Europe. Most of our members are European. Our instruments are in force in many European countries, although there is of course no geographical limitation. Our desire by introducing a second official language is to allow non-French speaking countries, European or not, to join us in order to work together. We also want to allow the EU to join us.
We have been working with the European Commission for many years now. The cooperation agreement between our two institutions was concluded in 1983. The adoption of the “public documents” regulation, now in force, clearly reflects this cooperation since the methods invented by the ICCS, such as multilingual forms or the coding of civil status forms, have been used in it. However, the instruments of the EU and the ICCS now coexist in Europe. It is a source of complexity and is not always well understood by practitioners. That is why we would like to strengthen our links with the EU.
— Some scholars have recently expressed their worries about the future of the ICCS (here). What do you think?
We fully understand their concern. It is a reaction to the surprising withdrawal of France. There is a risk of disappearance of the organisation if all the States adopt the same attitude of course.This would be prejudicial for the States themselves and for the practitioners of civil status. The reform of the ICCS internal regulation is precisely a reaction to such concerns, in order to make the organisation more attractive and to ensure its sustainability. Our wish is to convince new member states, new international entities to join us and to allow a return of our former members.
— What are the ICCS’ work forecasts and challenges ahead?
In September 2021, we are organising a conference on our flagship convention, the convention n° 16. Our wish is to establish a kind of diagnosis and to see what works well, gives satisfaction to the practitioners but also to detect the problems which appeared since 1976, date of its adoption. This is an exciting prospect. Having such feedback will be very enriching, both for the States Parties, the civil registrars and the organisation itself.
In addition to working on the substance of the matter, we want to make our organisation known, highlight its instruments which have demonstrated their effectiveness in practice and convince new States and international organisations to join us, by becoming members or by adopting our instruments.
As a conclusion, I would like to thank Nicolas for the very interesting light he has shed on the ICCS central mission for States and regional organisations such as the European Union to pursue and perhaps even step up their work on the key-issue of civil status for mobile citizens. Let us wish that the ICCS’ makeover will lead to a greater European and international cooperation in the field of civil status in the near future!
Please note that Nicolas is available to answer any questions that fellow blog readers may have on the ICCS.