Thematic Debate on the Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation

S.E. M. Vuk Jeremić, President of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
S.E. M. Vuk Jeremić, President of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
S.E. M. Vuk Jeremić, President of the 67th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Address at the Opening of the Thematic Debate on the
Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation
New York, 10 April 2013

Mr. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,
Esteemed Heads of State,
Respected Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my distinct privilege to welcome you to the United Nations General Assembly.
Two decades after the establishment of the inaugural UN ad hoc tribunal, and eleven years following the entry into force of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, we are finally holding our first thematic debate on international criminal justice.

I believe this is an issue of enormous significance for the international community. The number and diversity of countries that will participate in today’s proceedings demonstrates how widespread is the interest in this topic.

It is also an immensely sensitive one, for discussions about international criminal justice often involve considerations of delicate matters like sovereignty or impartiality. But I firmly believe there should be no forbidden subjects in the General Assembly. Where else can all Member States come together, as equals, to exchange views frankly, openly, and inclusively on far-reaching issues?

As international criminal justice is no longer in its infancy, there is quite an accumulated wealth of experience that can be appraised. Academic and public-policy experts have started to consider the historical record, revealing numerous lessons that may be learned or best practices to be applied in the future.

They are also debating issues such as prosecutorial discretion, the legal criteria by which judgments are rendered, and the selection process of court officials and staff as well as the question of jurisdictional primacy and how it has evolved over time.

Others include how to balance the delivery of justice, the prevention of impunity and fostering general deterrence, and the respect for the rights of both victims and the accused.

In my view, the paramount question is how international criminal justice can help reconcile former adversaries in post-conflict, transitioning societies.

I strongly believe that efforts to achieve justice and reconciliation should reinforce each other, and be bound together in what they aim to accomplish to put an end to enmity, thus breaking for good the vicious cycle of hatred.

Reconciliation necessitates each side to accept its share of responsibility. Divorced from this context, international criminal justice can easily be perceived as an instrument of revendication, or be portrayed as complicit with attempts to assign communal blame. Such outcomes would harm efforts to strengthen the rule of law, for no legal tradition recognizes the guilt or innocence of an entire nation.

Reconciliation will come about when all the parties to a conflict are ready to speak the truth to each other. Honoring all the victims is at the heart of this endeavor. That is why it is so critically important to ensure atrocities are neither denied, nor bizarrely celebrated as national triumphs.

Reconciliation is in its essence about the future, about making sure we do not allow yesterday’s tragedies to circumscribe our ability to reach out to each other, and work together for a better, more inclusive tomorrow.

I hope this thematic debate can be about the future as well, for we should see international criminal justice not only for what it is, but also for what it could become.

Let us therefore seek to improve its effectiveness, while offering honest and forthright assessments of its work.

And let us also be reminded of the possible dangers posed by its absence. It was Aristotle who wrote, so long ago, that “at his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.”

May we fervently strive to build a world in which no man or nation is separated from the ennobling reign of law and justice, where truth and reconciliation will be imparted with much-deserved preeminence.
Thank you for your attention.

by Vuk Jeremic 

UN General Assembly
Thematic Debate
Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation
10 April 2013
Tentative programme here

Tentative List of Speakers (9 April 2013) – First come First serve
Mission Level Name/Remarks
Bosnia and Herzegovina President H.E. Mr. Nebojsa Radmanovic
The Republic of Serbia President H.E. Mr. Tomislav Nikolic
Namibia Minister of Justice Hon. Utoni Nujoma
Rwanda Minister of Justice H.E. Mr. Tharcice Karugarama
Croatia PR H.E. Mr. Ranko Vilović
Turkey Charge d’Affaires Mr. Levent Eler
Surinam PR H.E. Mr. Henry L. MacDonald
Costa Rica PR H.E. Mr. Eduardo Ulibarri / On behalf of group of Latin American and Caribbean countries State Parties to the ICC
Russian Federation PR H.E. Mr. Vitaly I. Churkin
Observer State of Palestine PR H.E. Mr. Riyad H. Mansour
European Union Head of Delegation H.E. Mr. Thomas MayrHarting
China PR H.E. Mr. Li Baodong
Argentina PR H.E. Mrs. María Cristina
Perceval Egypt PR H.E. Mr. Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil
Switzerland PR H.E. Mr. Paul Seger
Chile PR H.E. Mr. Octavio Errázuriz
Liechtenstein PR H.E. Mr. Christian Wenaweser
Pakistan PR H.E. Mr. Masood Khan
Colombia PR H.E. Mr. Néstor Osorio
Brazil PR H.E. Mrs. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti
Indonesia PR H.E. Mr. Desra Percaya / On behalf of Indonesia
Ghana PR H.E. Mr. Ken Kanda
Sri Lanka PR H.E. Mr. Palitha Kohona
United Republic of Tanzania PR H.E. Mr. Tuvako Nathaniel Manongi
Australia DPR Ms. Philippa King
Trinidad and Tobago PR H.E. Mr. Rodney Charles
South Africa Charge d’Affaires Mr. Magen Govender
Uruguay PR H.E. Ambassador José Luis Cancela
Congo PR H.E. Mr. Raymond Serge Balé
Lesotho Charge d'Affaires a.i Mr. Mafiroane Motanyane
Japan PR H.E. Mr. Tsuneo Nishida

Remarks to General Assembly thematic debate on the Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly, 10 April 2013
Source: UN

I am pleased to address the General Assembly on the role of international criminal justice in reconciliation. This is a topic of tremendous consequence.

Reconciliation is one of the great essentials in our work for post-crisis healing.
But it can be difficult to know just when a society has sufficiently looked at the roots of conflict and addressed the peoples’ grievances.

All too often, even though fighting has stopped, and even after considerable time and effort, feelings can still be raw, and tensions can still erupt at seemingly slight provocation.

That is why true reconciliation is so important. And it is precisely here that international criminal justice can make a decisive contribution.

The advance of international criminal justice is arguably the most positive development in international relations of the past generation.

Two decades ago, almost fifty years after the Nuremberg trials -- and in the face of horrendous acts that at times summoned up those very ghosts -- the international community established the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The world was determined to ensure accountability for the crimes perpetrated during those conflicts.

Since those initial milestones, we have seen similarly pioneering additions to the judicial landscape, including the International Criminal Court, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Through their jurisprudence, these new instruments of justice have ushered in an age of accountability.

Impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other serious international crimes is no longer acceptable, nor is it tolerated.

Those who stoke the flames of hatred and division -- whether head of state, head of militia, individual soldier or individual citizen – have increasingly few places to hide.

Women and girls – often among the most vulnerable during conflict -- have been given additional protection.

Just two days ago, I met in the Hague with the Presidents of the international courts and the tribunals. I thanked them for their work. I stressed my full and unequivocal support for their efforts.

As the General Assembly declared at last September’s High-level Meeting on the Rule of Law, violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of human rights law must be properly investigated and sanctioned.

But justice is not only a matter of punishing the perpetrators. History has shown that long-term peace and stability requires the acknowledgement of past wrong-doings. For post-conflict societies traumatized by death and destruction, accountability can help prevent any recurrence. The Security Council emphasized precisely this in establishing the ICTY, the ICTR and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Let us also remember that even when it is found that a particular person did not commit a crime – especially if such a finding is based primarily on technicalities -- this is not the same as finding that no crime took place.

The system of international criminal justice has also given voice to victims and witnesses. Where once they might have gone unheard, left to suffer in silence, today they have a platform, not just through the courts and tribunals, but through truth commissions and similar mechanisms that have proven to be of immense value. And what they are seeing and helping to make possible, would have been considered unimaginable not so long ago. In Europe, Africa and Asia, once-powerful military and political leaders are being indicted and made to answer for their acts. Where once the rule of one man may have held sway, today the rule of law is on the rise. The effect on individuals, and on society as a whole, has been dramatic and cathartic. Even the amassing of trial documentation aids the cause, helping to ensure that history cannot be distorted for political ends.

In recent years, both the ICTY and the ICTR have transferred cases to national jurisdictions. Such transfers help to ensure justice. They also facilitate the building of strong and independent domestic legal systems in which the rule of law flourishes and in which prosecution, defence and judicial organs have the capacity to conduct fair trials.

The ICC, for its part, continues to contribute to our efforts to promote peace and security and respect for human rights. At the same time, we must remember that it is a court of last resort, and that the primary responsibility to prosecute international crimes lies with Member States. A successful ICC will be one that sees its workload diminish, universal acceptance of its jurisdiction and all of its states parties fully engaged in efforts to end impunity and ensure accountability for international crimes.

We cannot expect to attain our goals of peace, development and respect for human rights without promoting and supporting a robust system of international criminal justice.

I call on everyone in this room and our partners around the world to join together to support and strengthen this system. That is our shared responsibility. It is also our common interest.

Supporting the tribunals and courts means respecting -- and not calling into question -- their independence, impartiality and integrity. It means implementing their decisions. And it means safeguarding them from those who seek to undermine them for reasons that may have more to do with politics than justice,

The growing reach of international criminal justice is a hopeful trend for upholding our common humanity. I am strongly committed to providing the support these courts and tribunals need to succeed, now and in the future.

I thank you very much.

The Republic of Serbia, President Mr. Tomislav Nikolic, UN General Assembly,Thematic Debate: Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation

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