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Malta Conference

12-13 September 1997

International Criminal Court

Speech of Commissioner Emma Bonino

Unless there has been a dramatic development in the last few minutes, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, two of the most notorious indicted war criminals, are still free men. If they had been captured, or by some miracle surrendered, my mobile phone or yours would be buzzing by now. So Karadzic and Mladic are still at large, instead of being in The Hague, where a United Nations Security Council ad hoc tribunal is currently trying crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia. I strongly believe that the arrogance of men living in impunity, breeds contempt for the law among like-minded criminals who consider themselves beyond its reach. That is why we must keep up the pressure to change the situation in Bosnia, because there can be no real, lasting peace in that tragic country without justice. I am focusing on the cases of Karadzic and Mladic because they are so fresh in our minds. For me personally, I will never forget witnessing the aftermath of Mladic's bloody work in Srebrenica in the summer of 1995. I went to Tuzla when we realised that thousands were missing after the fall of Srebrenica -- thousands of men and boys, that is. Mladic's men rounded up the women and children and bussed them away, while herding their menfolk to their deaths. In Tuzla, I saw those dispossessed, bereaved women and children stunned into helpless, disbelieving silence on the tarmac in improvised camps there. Those women have survived physically -- I went to visit them again last year on the anniversary of the fall of Srebrenica. They may look normal to us today, but the scars in their minds and in the fabric of their society will never heal unless the killers are brought to justice. I hardly need to tell you that Karadzic and Mladic are but two examples of their kind: indicted war criminals who have yet to face a court. Whatever the fate of these two, there is of course a greater principle at stake -- the principle of justice being done and being seen to be done in the aftermath of crimes against humanity. Only justice can reinstate the foundations for sustainable, law-abiding societies in which citizens no longer feel tempted to take justice into their own hands with potentially lingering, deadly consequences. Private vendettas solve nothing in the long run. Recently, we all saw the images of the notorious Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot at a so-called trial in Cambodia. He looked like a pathetic old man apparently resigned to his fate in a country still struggling with its conflicts. But the world cannot and must not accept that strange event as the last chapter in the story of the man who bears responsibility for the fate of at least a million of his people. There can be no peace without justice: those of you who know me will have heard me say it before, and I will say it again, and again, until the day when we see the birth of permanent international criminal court. Let us look back for a moment. In 1945, after the horrors of World War Two in both Europe and Asia, the revulsion over war crimes was expressed in a will and desire for justice that translated into a message which can be summarised as 'Never again'. Military tribunals prosecuted Nazi and Japanese war criminals in a process that helped to pave the way for reconciliation after formal peace. Those tribunals were eventually dissolved, but they raised hopes for the idea that a permanent international criminal court might succeed them, to deal with crimes against humanity whenever and wherever they might occur. For a while at least, many people started sleeping easier, feeling that the lessons learned had been so powerful that they would in themselves be a deterrent to violations. Many did indeed enjoy peace and prosperity in the Long Boom that followed World War Two. But peace, the kind of security that most of us in Western Europe tend to take for granted, was far from universal. And the world also had to reckon with the Cold War, as a result of which the permanent court project quietly disappeared from the international agenda, despite the incidence of crimes such as those that occurred in Cambodia. So why has the idea of a permanent court been revived now? The fact is that we were hoping for a peace dividend after the Cold War, and instead, to the astonishment of many, witnessed barbaric atrocities on an unprecedented scale. The very names of Rwanda and former Yugoslavia now rank alongside Auschwitz as emblems of barbaric horror, but there are others too. When I say witnessed, I mean just that: more people than ever before have been able to see the evidence for themselves, in their homes, thanks to media coverage making available shocking images broadcast on television screens worldwide. The broadcast media today chase those images in a gruesome race to capture prime-time audiences. The intensity and the barbarity of what has happened has not ceased to horrify us, and no-one today within reach of a radio or TV can claim they did not know it was going on. In response, the United Nations Security Council bowed to public pressure to set up two ad hoc tribunals -- in 1993, to try crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia, and in 1994, to try those accused of genocide in Rwanda. This is of course an initiative to be welcomed. We now have a situation in which those coming to trial are facing not the victors in the conflict in question, but tribunals sanctioned by the international community. We know of the difficulties those tribunals are facing in terms of staffing and funding, and indeed in terms of credibility, given that some of the prime suspects are still at large. And we know that the Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia tribunals will eventually be dissolved. Despite that, in setting them up, the world community has taken a significant step in demonstrating its will to enforce international law, especially humanitarian law. But we must think of the future too. We cannot hide our heads in the sand, hoping against hope that there will never be a 'next time', or relying vaguely on the idea that we can always campaign for another ad hoc tribunal if necessary. We know perfectly well that nothing can bring back people that died or disappeared in sinister circumstances in Rwanda, ex-Zaire, ex-Yugoslavia, or in Argentina, El Salvador, Cambodia or Kurdistan. But it is high time that we back the words of our international declarations of respect for human rights with actions. Our joint action in setting up an international court would be in part a memorial to those that perished in crimes past. The court will of course not be able to try criminals who committed atrocities before it was set up. But let us hope it might contribute to a process of reconciliation among those who survive future conflicts, and, most important, that it would be a deterrent too, contributing to crisis prevention. As European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, I will of course endeavor to make available emergency aid for victims of complex, violent crises whenever I am called upon to do so. But I have always stressed that such aid can never be a substitute for political solutions to such crises, or better still, conflict prevention. A permanent criminal court is one essential mechanism among those for which the international community should take collective responsibility now. The winds of change are with us, and the prospects for establishing such a court have never been better. Rwanda and ex-Yugoslavia provided momentum that we must encourage. In August, a United Nations Preparatory Committee dedicated to the international criminal court project made headway on some crucial issues at its fourth session in New York -- more of that in a moment. The Committee has been spurred on by the General Assembly's decision to set a specific date for a landmark conference in this whole process. In June and July 1998, there will be a diplomatic conference to finalize the court's statute in Rome. In this regard I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to my own country, Italy, whose Governments over the last several years have shown the strongest commitment for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. Genocide is of course the crime that would be the court's main concern, but we all know that crimes against humanity take many forms, and the committee is working on defining them. The court would not replace national courts, but would be a last resort in cases in which national courts were unwilling or unable to bring perpetrators to justice. And as for sanctions, these would take the form of appropriate prison sentences. As defenders of human rights, we do not believe the death sentence is appropriate, even for murderers. Killing the killers would in our opinion only serve to reinforce a deadly, vicious circle. Our aim is lasting peace and reconciliation. The devil is in the detail of procedures leading to an event as momentous as setting up a permanent international court, and there is a heavy agenda before that diplomatic conference happens in Rome. At the August meeting of the United Nations Preparatory Committee, the issues examined were complementarity, that is, the relationship between the new court and national courts; as well as trigger mechanisms -- who exactly can trigger the Court's jurisdiction, and how? The Committee also discussed principles of criminal procedure, including the rights of suspects, defendants and victims, as well as witness protection measures. The next date for our diaries is December 1, in New York, where that preparatory committee meets again. International cooperation and judicial assistance will occupy one working group. A second group will address the principles of criminal law, penalties, and the list and definition of crimes covered. The meeting will continue until December 12. We must all be vigilant, we must all play whatever part we can in ensuring a good outcome. We owe it as a tribute to victims of crimes past and present, but above all as a warning to potential felons who watched Karadzic, Mladic and others at work and who might be tempted into copy-cat crimes. They must no longer be able to take comfort in our impotence to deter them. The message to them must be: Stop! The world will no longer tolerate such nightmares. The countdown to Rome starts here.

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