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The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Yemen and Ms Emma Bonino, on behalf of No Peace Without Justice, gave a press conference on Saturday, 10 January 2004, to discuss the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference on the International Criminal Court, Democracy and Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society.

Notes from the Press Conference held in Sana’a for the Intergovernmental Conference on the International Criminal Court, Democracy and Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Yemen and Ms Emma Bonino, on behalf of No Peace Without Justice, gave a press conference on Saturday, 10 January 2004, to discuss the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference on the International Criminal Court, Democracy and Human Rights and the Role of Civil Society. The Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke first, outlining the purposes of the conference and various logistical issues, noting that it had been hoped there would be 250 participants from abroad; there are now 600. He stressed that the conference is not intended to go into the practices of various regimes. Rather, it is intended that the conference will talk about principles and the bases for the different themes.

Ms Bonino echoed the sentiments of the Foreign Minister, underlining that while the conference has a broad political meaning, the format of the conference – governments, parliamentarians and civil society coming together under one roof to discuss the issues – is equally as important as the issues. She concluded by expressing the hope that this conference will be the start of regular dialogue in the region on these issues.

What follows is a summary of the question and answer period held after the initial statements had been given.
Question: Is Yemen ready to abide by the resolution of the conference as well as the agreements reached as part of that resolution?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Yemen will be as bound by the resolution as other signatories; this is a political, as opposed to a legal, commitment. It is not contrary to agreements already signed by Yemen. It is compatible with human rights conventions and with the Yemen Constitution; human rights principles are in fact enshrined in the Yemen Constitution. Of course, we know this Declaration cannot solve the internal affairs of countries, nor should it try to: this is for government, civil society and different political parties within each country. It is not possible for democracy to be imposed from the outside. This will not work: Yemen chose democracy and it has to be a choice for all Arab nations.
Question: Is Yemen ready to sign the ICC Statute?
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): Countries from the Arab world have been very active in ICC negotiations. Most of these countries have signed; the problems arise in relation to ratification; only Jordan and Djibouti have ratified. We believe there should be a push for ratification in the Arab world, because for the ICC to be truly universal, it needs to take into account Arab legal traditions.
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Yemen has signed the ICC Statute and it has to go through a process. Now it has been sent to the Council of Ministers. Yemen will ratify the ICC Statute, it just has to go through this process; the obstacles to ratification are only procedural.
Question: What other countries did you approach to try to have this conference held?
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): Yemen is not the only country where such a conference could have been held. However, the idea to have this conference and the idea to hold it in Yemen came about due to the long-standing relationship between No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ) and the Republic of Yemen and various discussions held by NPWJ and Yemen. NPWJ did not go “shopping” around to try to find a country in which to hold this conference: it was born from discussions held with the Republic of Yemen.
Question: NGOs are saying they have been excluded; what do you say to that?
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): There were some initial problems raised by some NGOs from Tunisia to that effect. As soon as we learnt of these problems, we took steps to ensure they were resolved. We are not aware of any other similar problems.
Question: What were the criteria for sending the invitations?
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): The criteria were that there should be a representative from each branch of government, namely Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Ministers of Justice, heads of Parliaments and the Senate. The criteria also included representatives from civil society and we held many consultations with civil society on this. In some instances, the Parliamentary delegation is very large, such as the one from Jordan.
Question: Why have you not dedicated one session to the issue of women’s rights?
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): We had to make a choice about what this conference would address. Women’s rights are one issue to be addressed specifically in the Thematic Session on human rights and democracy. Perhaps this will be an impetus for more conferences and follow-up on this specific issue, we certainly hope so.
Question: How do you evaluate the unexpected levels of participation, in terms of positive and negative effects?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: We are very happy so many people want to come to the conference. This is positive in itself. What may be difficult will be the management of discussions; there is only so much time in this conference and so not everyone may be able to speak for as long as they would like. This is one reason we made selections in who we invited.
Question: There are practices that now need to be addressed in the Arab world, such as FGM, occupation and practices violating human rights. We refer to the situation of Palestine. Will the conference address these issues?
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): There is a Palestinian delegation coming to the conference. So of course Palestine will be discussed. We do underline, however, that the fact that there are difficult issues that will be discussed and for which a solution will not be found at this conference should not prevent progress on other issues related to human rights and the rule of law.
Question: If Yemen is a democracy, why can’t Parliament dismiss any Ministers?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: This is a question you will have to ask the Parliament. Parliament has the power to dismiss Ministers, they just haven’t done it.
Question: Who are the official Arab delegations who were invited to attend but are not coming?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Every Arab country is officially represented in some form or another.
Question: Is Yemen really practising human rights and democracy?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: The practice on democracy and human rights is not perfect in Yemen; it is not perfect anywhere. Human Rights Reports, including from NGOs, the US State Department and so on, show clearly that there is progress in this area in Yemen. This requires time. Progress does not depend only on legislation but on society translating it into practice on the ground. This will be addressed in the Sana’a Declaration.
Question: Can democracy be imported?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: We do not think democracy can be imported. Democracy has to be chosen be each people, in line with their traditions and social and political processes. It is not one size fits all. It has to be in line with religious beliefs and values. But there can be external pressure as a catalyst for internal change, which we welcome.
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): The concept of “new democracy” will be discussed. Its true that democracy cannot be imported and the mechanisms will differ, but there is only one democracy, made up of fundamental democratic principles.
Question: We note the prohibition on journalists entering the conference hall. How can we report on the conference if we cannot be there?
CHAIR: There will be a lot of opportunities for the press. We are preparing a list of accredited press, which we will translate and give to you.
Question: It was recently announced the Saddam Hussein now has the status of a prisoner of war, not a criminal of war. What role will the ICC play in dealing with him?
Hon. Emma Bonino (NPWJ): Saddam Hussein should be treated with respect for his rights, including his rights as a defendant, whenever that may happen. The ICC is not the right forum for this, in particular because it only has jurisdiction from 1 July 2002, so everything that went before could not be considered. The ICC cannot solve everything: there needs to be more thought of establishing courts like the Sierra Leone model.
Question: How is it possible to have Iraqi representation when there is non-recognition of the Governing Council by the majority of Arab countries?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: The Arab world has said it will deal with the Governing Council until there is a Constitution and elections. All Arab countries say that, recognising the huge negative impact if we were to do otherwise.
Question: The freedom of the press is a pillar of democracy. A lot of Yemeni journalists are outside this room objecting to a law that will reduce the prerogatives of the press. Will this conference address that?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: The law was made by Yemeni journalists and withdrawn from Parliament. It is up to you.
Question: Why was the Minister of Human Rights not able to send invitations as she wanted? In Yemen, the Committee of the Legislative Council was not invited; why not?
Minister of Foreign Affairs: The Minister of Human Rights is a member of the organising committee. No Minister has the right to send invitations as such, this was up to the organising committee.