Tag Archives: international justice

Blame Game: Lowering the Heat on Policy Acrimony, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Nov

Recognize that the treachery of one member of a house does not taint all born within it. Jacqueline Carey

The world can use more light and less noise.   Steve Goodier

No state can combat disease, climate change, or international terrorist organizations on its own–but any state can play a destructive and destabilizing role on its own.  Rosa Brooks

Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other.  Vera Nazarian

Some people’s blameless lives are to blame for a good deal.  Dorothy Sayers

Despite a few controversies that threatened to boil over, this was an unusually satisfying week at the UN.   It was satisfying inasmuch as the UN seemed to be addressing what we consider to be topics of high value if we are to get past the current financial and policy impasses that threaten confidence in multilateral structures.

Much of that “getting past” in our view has two distinct (and related) requirements.   The first is to eliminate the incessant blaming indulged in by states and their representatives, the “treachery” associated with the pervasive compulsion to “shift responsibility” from oneself or one’s country on to some other entity whose behavior ostensibly “justifies” harsh criticism and/or even harsher punitive measures.

There were two major blame-rich episodes this week that caught our attention:  The unfortunate denial of visas by the US as host country to Russian delegates seeking to attend the UN General Assembly First Committee (disarmament) caused the Committee to suspend deliberations for a time and resulted in both numerous acrimonious exchanges and a resolution offered by Russia (but not adopted) to move Committee functions out of New York altogether.  The second was a contentious General Assembly debate on a resolution (supported by all UN members but Brazil, Israel and the US) insisting that the long US blockade of Cuba be lifted, a blockade which the US Ambassador expressly and relentlessly blamed on what she interpreted as “freely chosen” repression by various iterations of the Cuban government.  Whatever else might have been intended, neither of these blaming exercises did much to inspire confidence in UN deliberations.

The second requirement in our view is to successfully transition the UN from a preoccupation with conflict management based on military force generation to “softer” and more prevention-oriented security measures which this week focused on UN police capacity, international justice and what the UN calls “special political missions.”

While the UN remains properly preoccupied with its coordinating role on terrorism response, it is not at all clear that robust, heavily-militarized missions undertaken by “blue helmets” are warranted in most instances. And while “protection” remains at the core of UN commitments to civilians in conflict zones, it is also increasingly clear that what the UN does quite well — better than it is often given credit for — is helping to stabilize pre-conflict and conflict settings with mediation resources, police capacity and training, and the “good offices” of the Secretary-General and his regional offices and representatives.  While USG DiCarlo this week acknowledged the mighty challenges associated with reintegrating combatants and persons displaced by conflict, she also noted that the UN is improving in its ability to “match mandates and resources with challenges,” helping to ensure that competent and (gender and ethnically) diverse capacities such as UN Police and mediators are made available to prevent conflict, preserve the rule of law, and ensure that peacebuilding tools and resources are fully integrated into all conflict-responsive strategies.

Such strategies are still unevenly applied in some conflict settings, including Myanmar, Libya and Cameroon, but the UN is under increasing pressure – rightly so – to make good on its promise to engage all conflict actors in all conflict settings as it is now enabling in South Sudan, Yemen, Syria (with the formation of the constitutional committee) and other conflict spots.  As one dimension of this response, the role of criminal justice in ensuring accountability for the most serious international crimes is paramount.

While there is broad acknowledgment that the primary responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of what are known as “atrocity crimes” rests with states, there is also considerable recognition of the importance of complementary international legal capacities to assist states in bringing the most serious criminals to justice. As noted this week in the Security Council by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court ICC), “perpetrators of serious international crimes are emboldened when they believe they will never face justice.”   This point was echoed earlier in the week by the ICC president who remarked to the General Assembly that “even the most powerful can no longer be certain that they will escape unpunished” for their heinous acts.

The ICC as most readers know is not the only legal entity connected to the UN and established to investigate, attribute, try and punish perpetrators of the worst of crimes.  The “residual mechanism” for the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia; the Special Criminal Court created for the Central African Republic and contemplated for other settings where grave abuses have occurred;  the investigative mechanisms established to assess chemical weapons use in Syria or Iranian compliance with nuclear weapons program obligations; the extraordinary network of human rights experts seeking remedial access to prisons and other settings of potential abuses – these and other capacities lend hope to those seeking a world where questions of guilt will eventually be answered, where victims will eventually be vindicated.

The UN indeed has an increasingly robust set of eyes and ears to both assess the most serious challenges to a rules-based order and build pathways to accountability.  These pathways are essential both to the recovery of victims and to the credibility of multilateralism. But even here support from states, including some of the largest and most powerful, is often wanting. As ICC Prosecutor Bensouda presented her 18th report on Libya to the Security Council, nearly a decade after the Security Council originally referred the situation in Libya to the ICC, resistance to the Court was yet again evident.  Council members Russia, China and Equitorial Guinea flatly refused to endorse the role of the Court while the US took a more nuanced but no less troubling position – pushing the Court to end impunity while explicitly refusing jurisdiction of that same Court over alleged abuses committed by US personnel, including those committed in Afghanistan.

This manifestation of the UN’s blame game — mostly powerful states willing to hold the less powerful to account but not themselves– is a major contributor to the mistrust simmering around our fiscally-challenged system of global governance.  We see evidence on a regular basis of the willingness of large and some not-so-large states to flaunt the rules, to engage in “destructive and destabilizing” behavior that undermines the multi-lateral confidence needed to solve the problems that now threaten the entire planet.

The UN has the tools, especially policing and other “soft power” capacities, to help states resolve conflict, promote justice, and restore stability and development in conflict’s aftermath. What it has not yet located are the words to convince all of its member states to play by the same rules, to commit to ending impunity for themselves and not only for others, to cease all self-interested attributions of blamelessness and thus hold themselves accountable for responsibilities too-often deflected but rightfully theirs.

This is a high bar, indeed.  But we know from our own lives that there are simply too many instances of persons and institutions advocating for others what they reject for themselves, casting blame on those who appear to stumble rather than asserting a common responsibility to better behavior.  Clearly at this precarious moment in our collective history we need “more light and less noise,” more honesty and less treachery, more reflection and less projection. The tools and capacities created by the UN to help fulfill our peace and justice mandates are compromised as much by self-interested judgments and assertions of blame as by the funding and confidence deficits now looming over our entire system.

Just Desserts:  The UN Celebrates an International Justice Milestone, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Jul

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. Elie Wiesel

When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

To sin by silence…makes cowards of us all.  Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy. Wendell Berry

What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid?  Rachel Corrie

This has been another exhausting week at the UN.   From government ministers gathered to assess progress on sustainable development goals at the High Level Political Forum to the (now) annual meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council with both the UN Security Council and the increasingly visible and relevant UN Peacebuilding Commission, diplomats, civil society and UN staff were sprinting from one room to another, hoping to catch hopeful glimpses of a future whose contours, as of this writing, are still very much in doubt

For our cohort of interns, it was hard to make decisions about how to invest their time.  One or more seized the opportunity to meet with the over-stretched Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons, to participate in the launch of a report on promoting inclusion through social protection, to attend a humanitarian briefing on the DPRK (including discussion on the impact of sanctions) and another event focused on “resilient women,” and to listen to Kenyan Minister Kamau discuss the “blue economy” in the very same UN conference room that he once deftly steered the UN community to adopt what were to become the Sustainable Development Goals.  For the interns and despite all of the redundancies and clichés that punctuate many UN discussions, this week’s blur will likely help define their “possible,” the range of viable options for their growth, prosperity and service.

For us at Global Action who strive to blend these conversations into some semblance of policy coherence, this was a period where it was literally impossible to be in anything close to all the rooms where progress on core UN pillars of peace, development and human rights might be discovered.   We and others we spoke with over this long week were left pensive and often frustrated from a long week of listening and scrambling from room to crowded room seeking conversations that can get us beyond policy inertia and funding scarcity, conversations that can invigorate forward momentum and remind us of the stable of obligations essential to building that world of “sustainable peace” that our UN leadership is now so fond to speak about.

One such conversation occurred early this week as Liechtenstein and other states hosted an event to celebrate and inspire deeper commitments to international justice, specifically in the form of our obligations to the health and integrity of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Such events take place every year on July 17, but this one felt different, more important, even more relevant than most other years.

For starters, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute that called the ICC into existence and provided it with its marching orders – its jurisdictional scope, relationship to the UN Security Council, and much more.  The ICC by most accounts – even by those states that refuse to become parties or that fail to uphold key obligations under the Statute – has been in some critical ways a game-changer.  Though the ICC (as Australia and others reminded participants) is a “court of last resort” in instances where states are unable or unwilling to prosecute those of “their own” who commit the gravest of crimes, the ICC has also been an incubator for high-level discussions that are “shaping perceptions of justice” as well as underscoring our responsibility to uphold international law at a time when such responsibility has been wantonly ignored by state and non-state actors alike. At the same time, the Court has motivated states to strengthen their national legal frameworks to combat and prosecute the most serious violations of international law and has contributed in ways small and large to the development of special criminal courts – such as the one now taking shape in the Central African Republic – that will hopefully become essential to national justice and reconciliation, key conditions for ensuring that states which have emerged from violence have every opportunity to remain violence-free.

There was plenty to celebrate and ponder at this July 17 event, but even more this time given that this was the day when the jurisdiction of the court was extended to include the crime of aggression, a most welcome development to those committed to conflict prevention and perhaps especially for smaller states (as Andorra noted) that must rely on international mechanisms and the pressure they can exert to prevent external threats to their territorial integrity.  For its part, Brazil lamented our “long history” of legitimizing violence between and among states, legitimacy it noted which has now been called into serious question and with full legal force.

Those things which the Court still needs to work out as it moves past its 20th year are widely known.  Funding and staffing are less than adequate to the broadening scope of the Court’s work and the many horrific crimes still being committed in our world and for which ICC investigative and prosecutorial scrutiny is requested.  Despite a recent Arria Formula and other frank and conciliatory discussions, relations with some Security Council members, both permanent and elected, remain tense as the briefings by Prosecutor Bensouda on the Darfur and Libya referrals consistently make clear.  During her last brief to the Council on Darfur, Ethiopia went so far as to urge the withdrawal of the referral that resulted in an arrest warrant for Sudan president al-Bashir – a warrant which as we know has largely been ignored even by those African states which are parties to the Rome Statute.

Indeed, this has become a classic instance where security and development “progress” in Darfur –which has been recognized by the Council to the extent that a draw-down of the UNAMID peacekeeping force is well past the initial planning phase – is in danger of obscuring the massive crimes that came before.  Apparently, so long as leaders make a decent effort to clean up their messes – and there has indeed been progress in Darfur — they are no longer responsible for the grave impacts of those messes in the first instance.   This is a slippery slope, one noted by the outgoing Ambassador of Italy, who intoned that, more often than we might wish to believe, impunity “plants the seeds” of new conflict.

There is of course the additional headache that those permanent Security Council members whose footprint on ICC referrals looms large are themselves unlikely to ever face ICC scrutiny themselves.   There will surely be no referral on Eastern Ukraine or on the indiscriminate bombing that reduced places like Raqqa and Sanaa to rubble.  There will be no extension of the existing referral on Libya to include those who authorized the bombs in 2011 and who –inadvertently or otherwise – set off a frightening arms migration throughout Africa that makes mass animal movements across the Serengeti seem downright tidy.  Time and again, major power “guardians” of international law have rationalized away the damage from their own international law transgressions, often doing so in front of states and courts which have no power to prevent them from doing otherwise.

But much of the conversation this day was not about gaps to fill and inconsistencies to expose, but about the immense progress demonstrated by a Court that, as noted by the president of the General Assembly and others, has barely escaped its teenage years.  The pursuit of justice remains an often “onerous task,” as explained by Iceland, but it is a task that we can and must pursue together alongside the ICC if we are to fulfill the expectations that others have of us for justice but ultimately also for reconciliation, sustainable development and peace.

During this ICC session, the Palestinian Ambassador pointedly urged us all ”to embrace a higher calling.”  This is, of course, sage advice in all areas of multilateral policy, but surely so within the realm of international justice as a guarantor of a dependable and sustainable peace. As Argentina rightly insisted, we must continue to build the “solid ground” of justice, to renounce the “sin of silence” and bring hope and tangible relief to those victimized by both the high crimes of too many of their rulers and the relative indifference of too many of the rest of us.

Face the Nations:   Security Council Candidates Make a Public Pitch, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 May

There was so much of value to write about this week at the UN.  Jordan and Italy convened the last of three experts’ events to examine the phenomenon of degraded and trafficked cultural artifacts by organized crime and terror groups.  The Security Council with leadership from Spain and Ukraine organized a useful session on the security implications of climate change and desertification on Sahel states. Also in the Council, Egypt presided over yet another discouraging briefing on the state of Syria humanitarian assistance by UN “Relief Chief” Stephen O’Brien.  Others welcomed International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Bensouda who both briefed the Council on her Libya activities and held a smaller, well-regarded consultation on a broader range of topics relevant to international justice for a group of ICC “friends.”

But minor ‘historic’ events trump even the most insightful briefings. One such event took place this week over two half-days when, for the first time, candidates to become non-permanent (N-10) members of the Security Council faced an audience of their peers.  While two of the regional groups that contribute such members produced candidate running unopposed, the Asia Group (Kazakhstan and Thailand) and the European (and other) group (Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands) held separate, non-binding, “public” discussions consisting of statements by Ambassadors (mostly a recitation of their national priorities and UN contributions) followed by questions and answers from the curious audience.

The event was organized by the World Federation of UN Associations (WFUNA) and the questions were generally helpful.  Perhaps the best of these was posed by Poland during both sessions, making the point that the Ambassadors on the podium are not at all guaranteed to be the ones sitting around the oval after a successful candidacy, thus begging the question about the degree to which the respectful salesmanship in evidence actually reflects relevant state priorities.   Other questions raised during both sessions related to matters ranging from a Council “code of conduct” to priority issues (such as climate health and gender balance) that the elected N-10 would wish to highlight on the Council’s agenda.  NGOs, mostly New York-based were also invited to participate though, as we explained directly to organizers, this was often a matter of the usual questions posed by the usual suspects.

As readers of this blog are likely aware, the UN community has several Security Council “reform” movements afoot.  In a variety of contexts, the general membership remains concerned about the power imbalances within the Council, its limited regard for other relevant UN organs and agencies, and its willingness to entertain interventions from other states without evidence of how any of those disclosures actually impact Council working methods or policy outcomes.  It seems at times, as we have written before, that the Council has established a large and lovely picture window allowing all to peer into a dinner party to which they are too-rarely invited.  This distance makes non-Council members understandably nervous as some articulate forcefully and routinely during Council “open debates.”

As these discussions ended, and as an organization which has witnessed hundreds of Council meetings, we collectively wondered if the sessions (which we were mostly grateful for) actually got to the heart of the matter.  We know the work of these five delegations well.  They are all worthy of Council membership; they are all making important contributions to core UN objectives; they are all taking leadership on structures, issues and delegate groupings that have become indispensible to the UN’s core mission, including on promoting women’s participation in peace negotiations (such as the Netherlands has for Syria) and for Secretary-General candidature. (More women’s voices on the Council would help also.) Moreover, each is doing significant work to enhance key UN objectives beyond the UN itself, including Italy’s stirring rescues of desperate immigrants and their capsized vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus there is some reason to believe that at least a significant measure of what the five Ambassadors pledged at these sessions will ultimately be honored by their capitals.

Of course, Council membership remains quite demanding, especially on small and mid-sized missions.  The responsibilities related to subsidiary committees, for producing statements at many “open” meetings, for weighing in on consultations and participating in private briefings – these and other duties can be quite taxing on delegations from N-10 missions.  In addition, N-10 members receive requests to confer with non-member states that tend to see these diplomats (often so) as collectively having the interests of the general UN membership more “at heart.” Sweden was one of the candidates pledging to speak on diverse Council matters “with states, not at them,” but meaningful conversation takes energy, not a luxury that many small and mid-sized delegations can claim.

Given these burdens and given what these states have “taken on” to prove their mettle – from convening the G-77 (Thailand) or Peacebuilding Commission (Sweden) to the aforementioned work on the preservation of cultural heritage and the promotion of international justice – it would have been relevant to ask how mid-size missions plan to fulfill Council responsibilities on top of their many existing commitments?  As these states are selected, what will be the likely impact on their 2030 development work within ECOSOC?  What will happen to General Assembly and related duties for which these states are already known and about which expectations have already been generated?  What policy commitments are most in danger of falling by the wayside so that sometimes-relentless Council demands can effectively be fulfilled?

Moreover, it would have been interesting to ask these diplomats about their impressions of life as an N-10 member, drawing lessons from states now sitting around the oval, and from those that have previously served (including their own previous tenures).  There have been recent grumblings, including from current members Malaysia and Venezuela as well as New Zealand and Uruguay, that the Council is insufficiently democratic space, that permanent (P-5) members manipulate both the language and timing of resolutions in ways that exclude full member participation, and that Council mandates to “maintain peace and security” are often held hostage by the largest states, a reasonable accusation given that none can hold the P-5 accountable in the manner that these states seek to hold others.

Given these factors, it would have been valuable to ask candidates for specific impressions and concerns about the ‘office” for which they seek election.  In a similar light, it would also have been helpful to explore ways in which they believe that the N-10 can, individually and in unison, promote a more equitable Council structure both for themselves and for the states that will succeed them.  If there is any hope for meaningful and lasting Council reform, it seems clear that the N-10 members and alumni must do more to lay out issues, structures and implications that continue to impede peace and security progress and compromise the overall reputation of the UN, especially in the eyes of the most vulnerable. N-10 alumni know a good deal about what these five states are likely to face.  Their wisdom remains indispensible to any efforts – as Kazakhstan recommended with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals and Thailand with regard to the Peacebuilding Commission – to broaden what the Council supports while limiting what it controls.

There are risks associated with asserting this preference of course, including risks to political “favor” and careers from a too-bold confrontation with the largest and most powerful states.  But if the UN is to preserve a global confidence, some measure of political risk-taking must be part of the N-10 job description. We urge in any future “public” discussions with N-10 candidates that their reflections on Council risks-worth-taking are accorded a higher priority.

Facing History and Ourselves: GA Debate on the Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation

15 Apr

On April 10, the President of the General Assembly’s Office initiated a 1 ½ day event focused on the relationship of international justice – specifically the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) – and prospects for national and regional reconciliation. The President of the GA offered opening remarks.

The event drew a large crowd of diplomats and a few civil society representatives, though many of the folks we spoke with came for the spectacle as much as for the content.    Many were aware of the decision by several invited persons – including Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch – to cancel their participation in the event precisely because of the specter of a contentious and one-sided event that hung over the room.

Those who chose to stay away had their share of good reasons to do so.  The event itself was a carefully choreographed and at times intellectually dishonest exercise that sought to rehabilitate the reputation of the Serbian government and people by attacking the foundations of the system of international justice for which Serbian government behavior was an initial impetus.

The event may have done more to polarize the international community than to help explore legitimate concerns regarding the effectiveness of our international legal architecture, specifically concerns focused on the unresolved inconsistencies of the system of justice established by the UN Security Council – itself a politically compromised body.   Sadly the event did too little to enhance understanding of how international law functions, the nature and limitation of Tribunal mandates, or the complementary functions needed to establish conditions of positive reconciliation.  It should be noted here that it was not specifically the task of the Tribunal to promote conditions for reconciliation divorced from (often neglected) initiatives by other parts of the UN system let alone by the regional States themselves.

Nor was there any discussion of how the behavior of Serbs and others led us down the path where Tribunals were considered to be a viable option to national courts which, 20 years after this phase of violence commenced, have still proven themselves unwilling and unable to prosecute their own.   The Serbs-as-victims line is not completely without merit, insofar as international efforts to end impunity were selective and inadvertently reinforced negative stereotypes about Serbian ethnic communities, even regarding the ability of their newly elected representatives to contribute as viable members of the international community.  But such damage has remedial options that should have been explored carefully, one of which should NOT have been calls to dismantle the Tribunal, especially with key figures still awaiting trial. Moreover, we must have more clarity regarding what is wrong with the Tribunals, what can be fixed, and how we would avoid making the same mistakes again in other international fora mandated to end impunity for the most horrible, State-sanctioned crimes.

There is certainly merit to attempts to understand more clearly the limitations and compromises of our system of international criminal justice.   They clearly exist, and it would be wrong to sweep them under the rug.   At the same time, many of the complaints throughout the event were as unbalanced as the alleged behaviors of international prosecutors and their judicial processes.   Below I attempt to wade through what I and others felt to be a swamp of sloppy and compromised analysis to make the following points:

  • While it is important for any Tribunal to be sensitive to the impacts of their prosecutions and convictions on public perceptions, it is commonplace for victims of abuse to be dissatisfied with the results of court action that presumes to apply justice to victims’ allegations.   Courts must weigh options and evidence.   They cannot convict if there is insufficient evidence, regardless of the need of victims for conviction.   Nor can a Tribunal impose punitive measures beyond relevant sentencing guidelines.   It would appear that the Tribunal did its work within an environment where governments and constituents were rooting for it to fail.   That it has partially succeeded in fulfilling its mandate has little to do with levels of regional cooperation, including efforts to understand and work with the Tribunal’s limitations.  The Tribunal was treated by many as more like a tax collector to be spurned than a reconciler to be welcomed, officials’ contentions to the contrary.
  • Moreover, a Tribunal is not responsible for addressing all violations of law, but only those that rise to a level that establishes a clear and compelling interest for international prosecutors. While many of us, for good reason, recoil from the notion of symbolic justice – that is, prosecuting some as a ‘lesson’ to others – there is clearly a tendency to focus the attention of Tribunals on the highest established levels of accountability for gross violence and violations of rights.  Given the many resource and political limitations of the Tribunal, there is little justification for spending time on the equivalent of ‘street level drug dealers’ when the narcotics bosses are firmly within your sights.
  • Tribunals were established by the Security Council as a function of its (self-perceived) Charter-mandated responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.   Many States are uncomfortable (as are we) with the recent history of Council effort to expand its own mandate beyond what we believe to be the intent of the Charter.  Nevertheless, it is not clear where the viable, authorized alternatives might be to Council oversight of peace and security concerns, especially if we accept, which some on the panels clearly did not, that State “sovereignty implies responsibility” for the protection of civilian populations.  Invoking a recycled, Westphalian notion of sovereignty, as some participants did, was most unfortunate.   States participate in the UN, not because it is perfect or because they are rushing to cede national authority to international institutions, but because they recognize the limitations of State centrism in a multi-polar world.     There are things that States want and need that they simply cannot get within a system that holds them solely and rigorously responsible for all internal matters – including the economy, security and international justice.
  • As highlighted on day 2 of the GA debate, a clear majority of States continue to support (in theory and even in practice) the work of international Tribunals while affirming the duty of responsible parties to ensure that justice is pursued in a fair, impartial and vigorous manner.  But it is also clear that ‘responsible parties’ are not confined to Council members and Tribunal officials.   They also include States and the political entities within States.   It is clear to most States that the fair and equitable pursuit of justice in countries wracked by ethnic bitterness and massive human rights violations – let alone the larger agendas of national and regional reconciliation – cannot find success in the absence of support from those very same regional governments.      It was disturbing to many participants at this event that so few commitments to reconciliation – new or existing – were made or highlighted by the very States that were criticizing the limitations of the Tribunal in this area.      It is unfortunate at best for States that have not done nearly enough to foster national and regional reconciliation to claim that a Tribunal somehow has ‘magic bullets’ to share in this area.
  • National justice systems, as many States acknowledge, are ultimately the best setting for the adjudication of grave violations of human rights.   As our program partners in Guatemala indicate, their national courts are taking responsibility for sexual slavery and other crimes committed under previous governments, albeit tentatively and belatedly. National courts in Guatemala have advantages that do not accrue to international Tribunals, including having a more contextualized understanding of the impact of indictments and prosecutions on elements as diverse as national mood and access to justice.  We must utilize and support national judicial authorities wherever it is practical to do so, though the opinion of most at the GA debate is that we must also be able to supplement such capacity at the international level where needed.

At the end of the day, the debate failed some basic tenets of intellectual and political viability.   For instance, it seemed odd at best to attack the Tribunal for not solving problems inconsistent with its mandate, while essentially letting off the hook States and other stakeholders for which reconciliation tasks are very much within their sphere of responsibility.  Moreover,  to dismiss (as did some ‘scholars’ in this process) the relevance of international criminal justice altogether without any viable alternatives  or suggestions for practically modifying the limitations which were legitimately called to account seemed to us to be an unprofessional attempt to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

We can do better than this.  Thankfully, many participating States pointed us in a more fruitful way forward.


—Dr. Robert Zuber