Justice for Genocide: Work in Progress

27 Jul

17 July 2013 marked, the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the international community in Rome, Italy on July 1998. The adoption is commemorated annually as International Criminal Justice Day. In celebration, the United Nations held a panel discussion on Justice and Accountability for Genocide and Atrocity Crimes.

The opening panel moderated by Mr. William Pace, Convener of the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court, raised questions concerning the effectiveness of current justice strategies and highlighted the importance of the International Criminal Court (ICC), its current challenges and recommendations going forward.  “We need to see faster proceedings that are effective and efficient,” stated Amb. Christian Wenaweser of Liechtenstein, while shedding light on the lessons learnt from the ICC. Amb. Eduardo Ulibarri of, Costa Rica and Amb. Stephen J. Rapp, U.S. Office of Global Criminal Justice, looked at the challenges faced by the court through the lens of a “global fabric of justice” which needs to be strengthened by mending situations of grave violence to civilians utilizing both the ICC and other legal mechanisms.

The opening panel effectively conveyed the message that the threat of punishment is insufficient to deter individuals or governments from committing genocide or other mass atrocity crimes. Given this, Mr. Adam Dieng, the Secretary General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, proposed that states must do more to earn the trust of their people by creating and then respecting strong institutions of government. Karen Mosoti, Head of the Liaison Office of the ICC to the UN, speaking on behalf of the ICC president, emphasized as well the “power” of justice.

The roundtable discussion with NGO leaders and survivors that followed, moderated by Hon. Thomas H. Andrews, president of United to End Genocide, highlighted some of the troubling events that have taken place in the Democratic Republic of Congo and also reaffirmed the need to bring to justice figures such as Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir who have been accused of atrocity crimes. The overarching theme of the discussion focused on holding perpetrators accountable by providing justice for victims.

Over the years, the ICC has been dealing with a number of elites-induced conditions of mass violence where leaders engage in some form of cost-benefit calculation and aim at the acquisition or sustained exercise of power. A possible reason for this behavior could be related to the pattern of empty threats made by the international community. As Ambassador Rapp reinforced, “these acts of violence are not sudden and random, they are planned and instigated. These crimes are seen as a pathway to power but this can be broken only when we tell them that this commission will not lead to power.”

The threat of punishment – let alone an empty threat – has limited impact on government or other militant figures already intoxicated with hatred and violence. Thus the expectation of immediate relief in many conflict zones or post conflict settings should not be too high. With full regard for the timing and resource challenges associated with ending mass violence, the panel concluded with an unanswered but rather thought-provoking question posed by Ms. Eugenie Mukeshimana, “When and how do we declare the conclusion of a genocide?”

Overall, the event provided for a good discussion on issues pertaining to international justice. The title of the event implied that the event would be more focused on the legal aspect of prosecutions. Rather the discussion focused mostly on the political aspects of achieving justice for mass atrocity crimes. Nonetheless, the opening remarks as well as the roundtable discussion intersected around one important conclusion – the need for more positive interaction with the Security Council, including more regular communication with the ICC and more reliable funding made available to the Court to help prosecute the gravest of crimes.   GAPW will continue to contribute where and how we can to the evolution of more open and collaborative interactions between the Council and the UN’s various mechanisms for ensuring justice for the most serious of crimes.

 Kritika Seth

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