Top Officials from International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda, Former Yugoslavia Report Significant Progress towards Wrapping up Work within Next 12 Months
Sixty-seventh General Assembly
24th Meeting (AM)
Tribunals Helped Forge New Culture of International Accountability; Residual Mechanism Needs Adequate Resources to Preserve Legacy, Speakers Say
As the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia approached the completion of their mandates - and the twentieth anniversaries of their inception - it was now up to their smaller, leaner successor body to preserve the “new international culture of accountability” they had created, top officials from the courts said today as they briefed the General Assembly.
“Admittedly, when it was first established, the Tribunal was little more than an ideal – an expression of the outrage of the international community at the atrocities that were being broadcast on television screens”, said Theodor Meron, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, as he presented the body’s annual report. At that time, he said, there had been little faith about what the Tribunal could actually accomplish. However, from its very first trial, the court “breathed life” into laws that had hitherto rarely been applied and began the vital process of elucidating and defining the contours of international humanitarian law.
Noting that the Tribunal would celebrate two decades of operation in May 2013, he said that, over that time, the court had established the feasibility and enforceability of international criminal justice, “blazed the trail” for a host of new international courts and tribunals and pioneered the work of what was effectively a new world order – one in which all alleged perpetrators of gross violations of human rights in times of armed conflict would be held responsible for their actions, and in which “the question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ and ‘where’ they will be called to account”.
He reviewed some of the court’s most important specific accomplishments, which included the clarification that the crime of rape could also constitute the crimes of torture and genocide. That had led to a new focus by the international community on crimes of sexual violence during armed conflict, and had motivated the United Nations to take action in support of women and other victims the world over, he added.
[To date, the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has concluded the proceedings for a total of 126 accused, with proceedings for the remaining 35 accused ongoing. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has completed 72 cases, with one case in progress and 16 currently on appeal.]
According to the annual report of the Rwanda Tribunal, which was presented by its President, nine individuals indicted in relation to the brutal 1994 genocide in Rwanda remained at large, with six of those cases transferred to Rwanda and with the Arusha branch of the Tribunals’ successor body – the Mechanism for International Tribunals, which began operation in July - retaining jurisdiction for the other three cases.
“I am pleased to report this will be one of the last speeches the President of the ICTR makes to the General Assembly […] as we are rapidly approaching the conclusion of our mandate”, said Vagn Joensen, noting the importance of capturing the collective experience of the court now, as it would be difficult to retrieve in the future. There were ongoing Tribunal-wide efforts to that end, among them the Youth Sensitization and Genocide Protection project in the Great Lakes region, and capacity building activities for approximately 100 legal professionals in Rwanda.
He echoed the concern of several speakers today who pointed out challenges in relocating acquitted and convicted persons from the Tribunals. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda provided acquitted persons protection in Arusha, capital of the United Republic of Tanzania, he said; those persons had no travel documents, were separated from their families, were limited in their freedom of movement and not permitted access to employment. The rule of law required that those acquitted be allowed to recommence their lives in full enjoyment of their rights, yet among such persons residing at a safe house in Arusha, one had been there for over six years. He therefore urged Member States to accept such individuals and implement a strategy to facilitate relocations.
Eighteen years after a devastating genocide, both the Tribunal and Rwanda itself had come a long way in delivering justice to victims and promoting reconciliation, said Rwanda’s representative. Describing some recent developments, he welcomed the decision taken by the Government of Zimbabwe to launch a manhunt for the fugitive Protais Mpiranya - one of the “masterminds” behind the genocide – and urged other countries in the region to make similar efforts and cooperate with the Tribunal in tracking, arresting and transferring the remaining fugitives. Rwanda also welcomed the decision, taken in January by the Federal Court of Canada, to extradite Léon Mugesera, a genocide suspect well known for his 1992 hate speech against the Tutsi people.
“The establishment of the International Residual Mechanism is significant to the continued protection of the rights of victims, witnesses and persons tried by the ICTR and the ICTY and to maintaining the legacy of the Tribunals”, said the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania. As a host to the Mechanism’s Arusha Branch, his country felt that the proceedings, decisions and judgements of the Tribunals had provided indispensible guidance to national and international courts. “The lessons learnt have been instrumental in disseminating the rule of law and the application of criminal jurisprudence”, he concluded, adding that, “Now it is up to the international community to ensure the success of that legacy through the Residual Mechanism.”
As for the Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, many speakers praised the start of the court’s most recent trial, that of Goran Hadžić, which had begun last week. With that case, all indictees were, or had been, on trial, said the representative of the United States in that regard. In addition, she said, her delegation looked forward to the prosecutor’s report at the end of the year, in particular to learn more about Serbia’s reports on those who had hidden the accused war criminal Ratko Mladić. “Those who harbour fugitives put themselves in peril and are only delaying the inevitable”, she stressed.
The defendants convicted to date had been tried and found guilty of some of the most hideous crimes against mankind. Thanks to the work of the Tribunals, “the world now knows about those crimes”, she added, noting that they had brought to light stories that would otherwise be lost or hidden in the shadows.
In that vein, Serbia’s representative stressed that the cooperation of his country with the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had been “continuous, smooth and successful.” With the arrest and transfer of Goran Hadžić, Serbia had completed its cooperation with the body regarding the transfer of indictees. The tracking down of the persons who had taken part in aiding the fugitives was of great importance to his country, he stressed, noting that the processing by Serbian national courts of 389 persons indicted for criminal offenses against international humanitarian law was “telling evidence” of the contribution of his country to the achievement of the goals and objectives of the Tribunal’s Completion Strategy, as well as to the process of the normalization of relations in the region.
Also speaking today were representatives of the European Union, India, Canada, Norway and Russian Federation.
The Assembly will reconvene on Wednesday, 17 October, to hold a joint debate on the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
Meeting today to discuss the work of the United Nations international criminal tribunals, the Assembly had before it a report of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for the period 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012 (document A/67/253–S/2012/594). It states that, over the last year, the Tribunal continued its efforts to complete itsremaining workload at the trial and appeals levels in the most expeditious manner possible. Despite continued challenges related to staff retention and recruitment, the Tribunal had made significant progress, delivering five trial judgments during the reporting period.
One trial judgment involving one accused remained to be delivered, the report notes, and completion of the first instance work was expected by the end of 2012. The Appeals Chamber rendered seven judgments concerning eight persons, bringing the total number of persons whose judgments had been completed at the appellate level to 43. Completion of appeals work was expected by the end of 2014. The Office of the Prosecutor focused on tracking of fugitives, referral of cases to national jurisdictions and support for national authorities in the prosecution of crimes relating to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Continuous support was also extended to Rwandan authorities to assist them in preparing for the transfer of cases from the Tribunal.
The Registry continued to provide a high level of administrative and judicial support to the Tribunal. It ensured the cooperation and assistance of Member States with the court and further strengthened its outreach and capacity-building activities in Rwanda. Trial proceedings continued to receive support from the various units and sections of the Judicial and Legal Services Division. The Division of Administrative Support Service sustained its work to ensure the efficient management of the Tribunal’s downsizing process.
The report goes on to state that all organs of the Tribunal were ensuring their best efforts to complete the court’s work expeditiously and to prepare for a smooth transition to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. The following efforts required essential cooperation and support of Member States: (a) three fugitives remained to be arrested; (b) five acquitted persons and three persons who had completed their sentences needed countries for relocation; and (c) the Tribunal needed to be provided with sufficient resources to be in a position to complete its tasks within the expected time frame. The Tribunal relied on the ongoing support of Member States to achieve those goals.
Among its conclusions and recommendations, the report notes that, in its final months, by working closely with the Residual Mechanism and by sharing best practices for closure with other international legal institutions, the Tribunal will continue to ensure that knowledge gained and lessons learned are put to good use in order to ensure a smooth transition. Efforts at capacity building and education for the region will remain strong, so that the Tribunal’s impact would not only include challenging impunity, but also helping to improve the means to dispense justice for an entire region.
Also before the Assembly was the nineteenth annual Report of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (document A/67/214-S/2012/592), covering the period from 1 August 2011 to 31 July 2012. It states that the Tribunal continued to focus on the completion of all trials and appeals, with 17 persons in appeal proceedings, 17 persons on trial and one person at the pretrial stage at the close of the reporting period. Proceedings against 126 of the 161 persons indicted by the Tribunal had been completed.
The report further details the activities of the Tribunal during the reporting period and demonstrates the court’s focus on its goal of completing its proceedings as soon as possible, without sacrificing due process. The President intensified efforts to streamline procedures and introduced a variety of reforms to improve the pace of the Tribunal’s work. That official focused especially on problems that might impact the efficiency of proceedings, such as delays in translations and imbalanced workload distribution between ad litem and permanent judges. Staff attrition continued to be a serious challenge to the work of the Tribunal, the report adds.
All sections of the Tribunal coordinated to ensure a smooth transition of functions to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals. The Office of Legal Affairs and the Informal Working Group of the Security Council on International Tribunals provided extensive and valuable assistance and advice to the Tribunal. On 1 July 2012, the branch for the Arusha-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda of the Residual Mechanism began operating.
During the reporting period, the Tribunal continued to make significant contributions to the development of legal norms of international criminal law and procedure, and to the maintenance of peace and stability in the States of the former Yugoslavia. The Tribunal’s success was underscored by the fact that all 161 indictees were accounted for, and by the Tribunal’s reputation for procedural fairness and impartiality. The Tribunal made extensive efforts to share information about its work with relevant individuals and organizations, facilitating exchanges of information about the trials and appeals it had conducted, the substantive norms its judgments had elucidated, and the procedural approaches its judicial branches had adopted.
The Office of the Prosecutor made progress towards the completion of the court’s mandate at both the trial and appellate levels. The Office continued the development of working relationships with the authorities of the States of the former Yugoslavia to encourage cooperation with the Tribunal and to support domestic war crimes prosecutions. Under the President’s authority, the Registry continued to play a crucial role in the provision of administrative and judicial support to the Tribunal. The Registrar’s Office coordinated the work of the various Registry sections, which dealt with a wide range of legal, policy and operational matters, including the practical arrangements necessary for the commencement of the Residual Mechanism.