Friday, July 19, 2013

Wise Souls and Noble Goals: The UN's commemoration of International Justice Day

Ambassador Stephen Rapp, John Washburn, William Pace

The American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court was proud to commemorate International Justice Day on Wednesday July 17th at the United Nations. AMICC’s Convener, John Washburn, was invited to speak on a panel on the subject of the future of Global Criminal Justice. Other speakers at the event included Ambassador Stephen Rapp, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice, William Pace, the Convener of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, and Ambassador Richard Williamson, the former Special Envoy to Sudan under President George W. Bush. 

International Justice Day is the celebration of the signing of the Rome Statute, the governing document of the International Criminal Court. The document was signed in 1998 and this was its 15th anniversary. As noted by several speakers at the event, 2013 is also the 15th anniversary of the conviction of Jean Paul Akayesu at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the first person in history to be convicted of genocide.
In addition to distinguished former public servants, there were moving speeches by representatives of Civil Society organizations and Victims’ Advocacy groups. Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide and founder of the Genocide Survivors Support Network spoke quietly, but firmly about the need to redirect attention toward reparations. Without some kind of compensation, she said, “We cannot talk about justice for someone who lost everything they ever had, lose their families… Justice for us means the chance to rebuild our lives.” Her remarks were followed by the screening of a short film called, “Voices from Darfur.” In addition, Kristen Rosella of the International Justice Project reminded the audience that transitional justice mechanisms such as Truth and Reconciliation Commissions also had their place in helping victims to restart their lives.
Thomas Andrews, the President of United to End Genocide expressed his anger that alleged war criminals have recently publicly traveled to State Parties to the Rome Statute without being arrested. Mr. Andrews declared fervently that the government leaders who welcome or hide genocidaires, war criminals, and criminals against humanity should be recognized as aiders and abettors and indicted by the ICC. This remark was the only one of the afternoon that received a raucous round of applause from the audience.

John Washburn began by describing how the ICC contributes to redress for victims by defining and proclaiming the truth of their suffering and punishing those responsible.

Furthermore, he noted that a country’s decision to receive a sitting head of state for whom an arrest warrant has been issued, does not always imply support for the alleged war crimes committed. In response to the recent uproar regarding Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s recent visit to Nigeria – a state party to the Rome Statute and therefore legally obliged to arrest him – Mr. Washburn noted that there were geopolitical considerations in play. He pointed out that Nigeria (or Chad, which President Bashir has also visited) cannot afford to snub the leader of a regional power like Sudan. The reprisal from Sudan could be devastating to the less powerful countries in the region. States Parties should support such countries so that they can resist visits by persons under ICC arrest warrant.

The President of the Assembly of States Parties, Tiina Intelmann made a similar point in a blog post on July 17th. “Acting individually or regionally,” she writes, “States sometimes find it politically challenging or outright impossible to cooperate and have even collectively undertaken not to comply with the Court.”

The conference maintained a sober, but hopeful tone. Ambassador Rapp delivered a stirring speech about his own experiences in war torn areas, including his experience as a prosecutor in Rwanda and Sierra Leone.  He spoke with such passion that it seemed at times he was close to tears. He spoke of the “fabric of justice” that had been woven by the ad hoc tribunals and hybrid courts. He closed his speech with an inspiring appeal for a response to the real reason that International Criminal Justice is more imperative now than ever: the growing victim tallies. “For the sake of those victims,” he said, “let this 15th anniversary [serve] to redouble our efforts to protect [them].”

Ambassador Stephen Rapp speaking about the Court's noble mission

Karen Mosoti, representing the office of the President of the Court, read from a statement prepared by President Judge Song: “We do this, because we know accountability deters crime.”

In addition to the event at the United Nations, several other discussions and presentations took place to commemorate International Justice Day. See below for an excerpt from an eloquent speech presented by the International Criminal Court Alliance in Los Angeles:

“The treaty was drafted with US leadership and embodies American values that no one is above the law and accountability pursuant to the Rule of Law. The creation of the ICC is the same type of giant leap forward for an end to impunity as our Declaration was for an end to tyranny by a foreign monarch.”

We would also like to recommend the very informative online panel discussion led by William Pace on the misperceptions in the relationship between the ICC and Africa.

The panel included:   
 Phakiso Mochochoko, Head of Jurisdiction, Complementary and Cooperation Division at the ICC, Pieter de Baan, Executive Director of the Trust Fund for Victims, Oby Nwankwo, International Consultant on Gender and Development at Civil Resource Development and Documentation Centre, Nigeria, Stella Ndirangu, International Commission of Jurists-Kenya, Tom Maliti, Journalist, ICC Kenya Monitor

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