14 October 2013
General Assembly
GA/11441

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-eighth General Assembly

Plenary

33rd Meeting (AM)


Culture of Global Accountability Now a Reality, Top Officials of Rwanda,


Former Yugoslavia Tribunals Tell General Assembly


Speakers Express Concern over Fugitives at Large, Staff Retention Challenges


The ideal of a world where accountability was the expectation, and not the exception, had become a reality, despite challenges of arresting fugitives and staff retention, the General Assembly heard today as the Presidents of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for Former Yugoslavia presented their annual reports.


The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) “will leave behind it a world transformed,” said Theodor Meron, President of the Tribunal and of the Mechanism, “a world in which expectations of principled accountability for those who stand accused of atrocities will remain the norm, and the rule of law will continue to prevail.”


Because those accomplishments hinged on Member States’ continued support, he said “this is, in a very real way, not just the legacy of the ICTY but the legacy of the international community as well.”


Providing an overview of the ICTY’s work, he said more judgments than in any other reporting period had occurred in the year ending 1 August 2013.  Four cases were at trial and seven were pending on appeal from judgment.  The Tribunal had developed a plan to facilitate its completion strategy and the transfer of relevant responsibilities to the Mechanism.


Presenting the Mechanism’s first annual report, he hoped the institution would serve as a model for international criminal justice and the United Nations.  Established last year to manage the Tribunal’s remaining work, the Mechanism had taken on one appeal referred from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and was protecting and supporting witnesses and enforcing sentences for those convicted by the ICTR and the ICTY.


Meanwhile, the legacy to be left behind by the ICTR was still being written, said its President, Van Joensen, as he introduced that body’s eighteenth annual report, which highlighted the state of its caseload from 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013.  “Through the efforts of the international community and with the support of Member States,” he said, “the ICTR’s commitment to the sentiment that never again should flagrant violations of international criminal and humanitarian law go unpunished will continue to evolve in a meaningful way leading to the eventual realization of our goal to end impunity.”


While Rwanda’s dedication to meeting international standards stood as an example now followed by others, prosecution alone could not maintain peace or achieve reconciliation, he said.  Outreach efforts, including training programmes and partnerships with higher learning institutions, ensured that affected communities along with the international community understood the ramification of the genocide and the lessons learned in the world’s battle against impunity.


However, Shri E. Ahamed, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, said that trials through the international courts and tribunals established by the international community did not always have the desired impact on the affected communities.  “When such trials are conducted by foreign judicial systems or Tribunals, with little or no connection to the perpetrators, victims or offences, they were invariably decoupled from the political, social and economic context of the affected country and its people,” he said, adding that strengthening national judicial systems remained crucial as States had the primary responsibility to prosecute those crimes committed in their territory or by their nationals.


Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representative agreed, saying that the continued fight against impunity remained rooted in credible national prosecutions bolstered by regional cooperation.  Since the Tribunal’s establishment, more than 200 cases had been successfully concluded, yet a large number of war crimes remained to be prosecuted in domestic courts.  Still, a clear message was being sent that crimes committed in the Former Yugoslavia should be punished without exception


A representative of Serbia said his Government had transferred to the Tribunal all those it had indicted and would also continue its commitment to cooperate in providing access to documentation, archives and witnesses.  For its part, Serbia had tried 399 persons in its national courts for criminal offences against humanitarian law.  Noting that his country was the first in Eastern Europe to sign an agreement with the International Criminal Court on the enforcement of sentences, he regretted that no breakthrough had been made on an agreement to have individuals serve their sentences in their own countries.  The purpose of punishment included the re-socialization of sentenced persons, which was difficult if individuals served sentences in countries in languages unknown to them.


Speaking as a host State, a representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, reiterated his Government’s call to find host countries for acquitted and convicted persons currently in facilities in Arusha.  He also encouraged the Mechanism to prioritize the pursuit of agreements with additional Member States for the enforcement of sentences.


Several speakers stressed the importance of arresting the remaining fugitives and the need for Member States to cooperate, with a representative of the European Union Delegation calling it a grave concern.  A recurring staff retention challenge also remained a concern, some delegates said, with a representative of Norway, speaking on behalf of the Nordic Countries, highlighting that losing institutional knowledge hampered progress.


A representative of the Russian Federation said that the situations in the Tribunals had not significantly changed and he regretted that the ICTY leadership had de facto refused the transfer to the Mechanism of one case.


Representatives of Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand), United States, Guatemala and Argentina also delivered statements.


The General Assembly would meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 17 October to elect five non-permanent members of the Security Council.


Background


The General Assembly met this morning to consider the Secretary-General’s notes transmitting the eighteenth annual report of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighbouring States between 1 January and 31 December 1994 (document A/68/270-S/2013/460), twentieth annual report of the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991 (document A/68/255-S/2013/463), and first annual report of the Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (document A/68/219-S/2013/464).


Introduction of Reports


VAN JOENSEN, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), introduced the Tribunal’s eighteenth annual report (document A/68/270).  Summarizing highlights of the reporting period of 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2013, he said the Tribunal had, among other things, issued its last judgement concerning one person at the trial level and the notice of the appeal from the final ICTR trial judgement in the Ngirabatware case had been filed with and would be handled,  by the International Residual Mechanism, making it the first such appeal from a judgement in a case of the ICTR or International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to be handled by that body.  The Tribunal had also just completed its trial sessions of the 93 accused.


Turning to the appeals, he said proceedings had been concluded in respect of 46 persons with the final six appeals involving 15 persons currently pending and on schedule to be completed by the end of 2014, with the exception of one case, Butare, which involved six accused and was scheduled for conclusion in 2015.


Raising the daunting challenge of relocating acquitted persons and those released after serving sentences in United Republic of Tanzania, he reported no positive developments and in May 2013 the Tribunal had submitted a strategic plan to the Security Council’s Informal Working Group on International Tribunals.  He reiterated the urgent call for increased cooperation from Member States with respect to the Tribunal’s efforts to relocate those persons.


With 2014 marking two decades since the Rwandan genocide and subsequent creation of the Tribunal later that year, he said it was an appropriate time to consider the impact of international judicial institutions and their role in the evolution of international criminal law and on the judicial progress in domestic jurisdictions.  “One of the more tangible impacts is evinced by the considerable steps by Rwanda to comply with international fair trial requirements for trials of cases referred by the ICTR and national jurisdictions,” he said.  “These steps, which included the abolition of life imprisonment in isolation with respect to any case transferred from another jurisdiction and the creation of a witness protection unit under the authority of the Rwandan judiciary, demonstrate how international judicial institutions act as a guide in ever-increasing domestic efforts with respect to international crimes.”


While Rwanda’s dedication to meeting international standards was one reason it stands as an example which is already beginning to be followed by others, “prosecution alone cannot maintain peace or achieve reconciliation”, he said, emphasizing the importance of outreach efforts, including training programmes, professional workshops, visiting professional programmes and partnerships with higher learning institutions that the Tribunal had instituted throughout its existence to ensure that the affected communities along with the international community understood the ramification of the genocide and the lessons learned in the world’s battle against impunity.


“The legacy to be left behind by the ICTR is still being written,” he said.  “I remain ever encouraged at the direction that international justice has taken in the two decades since the inception of the ad hoc tribunals.  I have full confidence that through the efforts of the international community and with the support of Member States, the ICTR’s commitment to the sentiment that never again should flagrant violations of international criminal and humanitarian law go unpunished will continue to evolve in a meaningful way leading to the eventual realization of our goal to end impunity.”


THEODOR MERON, President of the ICTY and of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, presented the Tribunal’s twentieth annual report of the ICTY (document A/68/255-S/2013/463) and the Mechanism’s first annual report (document A/68/219-S/2013/464).  Providing an overview of the Tribunal’s work, he said more judgments than in any other reporting period had occurred in the year ending 1 August 2013, with five at the trial level, three on appeal, one on appeal from an acquittal and four in contempt cases.  The Tribunal had four cases at trial and seven cases pending on appeal from judgment and he foresaw the completion in 2015 of two trials, in the Karadzic and Hadzic cases, and one trial, in the Mladic case, concluding in 2016.


The Tribunal had developed a consolidated, comprehensive plan to facilitate the completion strategy and the transfer of relevant responsibilities to the Mechanism.  The Tribunal’s down-sizing had made maintaining staff morale difficult, yet despite challenges, he was grateful for the staff’s continued dedication.


Turning to the Mechanism, he said work had begun with opening branches in Arusha on 1 July 2012 and The Hague on 1 July 2013, establishing a presence on two continents, including offices in the United Republic of Tanzania and the Netherlands and a satellite office in Rwanda, along with a small core staff of nationals from more than 30 countries.  The Mechanism was seized of one appeal from the ICTR and other judicial matters, including requests to vary protective measures granted to certain witnesses, proceedings related to alleged contempt of court and early release applications.  The dedication and cooperation of Members States had allowed the ICTY to account for all 161 indicted individuals.  He called upon all Member States to ensure the remaining fugitives indicted by the ICTR were arrested and brought to trial.


A number of functions transferred to the Mechanism from the Tribunals ranged from protection and support of witnesses and enforcing sentences for those convicted by the ICTR and the ICTY, he said.  As the Mechanism entered its second year, he hoped it would serve as a model for international criminal justice and for United Nations institutions generally, ever mindful of its temporary existence.


Turning to the twentieth anniversary of the ICTY’s creation, he said “I am very happy to report that the ideal embodied in resolution 827 (1993) of a world in which accountability is the firm expectation, and not the exception, had become a reality.  The Tribunal will leave behind it a world transformed: a world in which expectations of principled accountability for those who stand accused of atrocities will remain the norm, and the rule of law will continue to prevail.”  Because all those accomplishments were due to continued support from Member States, he concluded that “this is, in a very real way, not just the legacy of the ICTY but the legacy of the international community as well.”


Statements


ANASTASIA CARAYANIDES ( Australia), speaking on behalf of her country, Canada and New Zealand, reaffirmed her support for the ICTY and ICTR.  Both Tribunals had played a major role in international criminal justice, she said, through their jurisprudence as well as ongoing contributions to building national judicial capacities.  All 161 persons indicted by the ICTY had been accounted for, and the ICTR had delivered judgement in relation to all indictees apprehended to date.  The Residual Mechanism that had opened its Hague branch this year ensured key work relating to the trial of any captured fugitives would continue beyond the completion of the Tribunals’ mandates.


Mindful of these significant accomplishments, she said that nevertheless the Tribunals still had crucially important work ahead of them.  In this regard, she commended measures introduced by the ICTY to ensure its processes were as efficient as possible, whilst respecting the full rights of the defendants.  Likewise she commended continuing efforts by the ICTR, including on the “pressing matter” of relocating acquitted and released persons.  She called for the support of Member States for the ICTR, stating that ongoing support and cooperation of the international community for both Tribunals and the Residual Mechanism were essential.  Australia, Canada and New Zealand would continue to offer their full support to give “practical effect to our collective commitment to international criminal justice”.


TINE MØRCH SMITH ( Norway), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, commended both Tribunals for having made substantial efforts to successfully deal with their respective caseloads despite various challenges.  Both were still functioning and in need of continued support from the international community.  The remaining cases at the ICTY entailed a substantial workload for the Tribunal’s staff, but a staff shortage remained a serious challenge and was affecting the pace of processing continuing trials and appeals.  Under the framework of the ICTR, three fugitives remained to be arrested and brought to the Residual Mechanism.  She urged all States, particularly the Great Lakes countries, to intensify efforts to ensure their arrest.


She also emphasized the important task of ensuring a successful transition of cases to national jurisdictions, both from the ICTY to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia, and from the ICTY to Rwanda.  Such referrals would help strengthen the capacity of those jurisdictions to prosecute violations of international law and reinforce the rule of law in the States concerned.  In that regard, the Nordic countries would like to underline the need for continued capacity-building and support to the concerned national jurisdictions.


GILLES MARHIC, a representative of the European Union Delegation, reaffirmed support for both Tribunals and the Residual Mechanism, calling for a smooth transition process.  He noted the challenges faced by both regarding staff retention and the loss of experienced staff members.  While welcoming the efforts of the interstate assistance mechanism Justice Rapid Response in helping solve the problem, he encouraged the Tribunals to continue to prioritize their resources while ensuring remaining trials and appeals were kept on track.


With respect to the ICTR, he recalled that nine accused individuals remained at large.  The failure to arrest them was a matter of grave concern, he said, calling on all States concerned to intensify their efforts in order to achieve the arrest and surrender of all remaining fugitives.  Meanwhile, full cooperation with the ICTY remained an essential condition for the Stabilization and Association Process in the Western Balkans and for membership of the European Union.  Croatia’s accession to the European Union was an example in that regard.  He also encouraged the Governments concerned to pursue with greater vigour the domestic investigation and prosecution of war crimes and called for international support for those countries in strengthening their national jurisdictions.


SHRI E. AHAMED, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, welcomed that both of the branches of the International Residual Mechanism had become operational, saying this would ensure the smooth transition of the two Tribunals’ pending work.  In the past year, the Arusha Branch had already conducted a number of judicial activities and performed functions ranging from the protection of witnesses to responding to requests for assistance from national jurisdictions.  He was confident that the Mechanism would successfully build on the work of its predecessors with perfection and would complete the pending work efficiently in a timely manner without compromising fair trial rights.  The efforts to relocate persons acquitted by the Tribunals and those convicted persons who had completed their sentences and been released were significant for humanitarian and reconciliation reasons and should be given priority.


He went on to note that trials through the international courts and tribunals established by the international community did not always have the desired impact on the affected communities in terms of helping in healing and reconciliation.  “When such trials are conducted by foreign judicial systems or Tribunals, with little or no connection to the perpetrators, victims or offences, they were invariably decoupled from the political, social and economic context of the affected country and its people,” he said.  Strengthening national judicial systems to prosecute serious crimes remained crucial as States had the primary responsibility to prosecute those crimes committed in their territory or by their nationals.  Therefore, creating effective national legal and judicial institutions was essential and the international community should provide assistance in that regard.


MIRSADA ČOLAKOVIČ ( Bosnia and Herzegovina) said a clear message was being sent that crimes committed in the Former Yugoslavia should be punished without exception.  The Tribunal remained focused on the completion of trials and appeals, she said, commending its work.  Since the end of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina had been cooperating with the court, as noted in the current and past reports.  However, she supported all the concerns raised by the Prosecutor and said much remained to be done, keeping in mind her country had carried the greatest burden of prosecutions for war crimes.  Since the Tribunal’s establishment, more than 200 cases had been successfully concluded, yet a large number of war crimes remained to be prosecuted in domestic courts.  Stronger efforts were needed to increase the pace at all levels.  The continued fight against impunity remained rooted in credible national prosecutions, she said, underling the common goals for all committed crimes to be punished.  Regional cooperation was vital in that respect, she said, pointing out the agreement signed by Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.


EVGENY ZAGAYNOV ( Russian Federation) said a swift closure of the ICTY would depend on the elections, which he anticipated to take place with a vote in the Assembly.  The situations in the Tribunals had not significantly changed and he regretted that the ICTY leadership had de facto refused the transfer to the Mechanism of one case.  The situation with the Rwandan Tribunal should be examined by the Council.


WILLIAM P. POPE (United States), noting that the historical work of the Tribunals was now nearing completion, commended the efforts of both Tribunal Presidents to enact cost-saving managerial and administrative measures, and to transfer the remaining functions of the tribunals to the Residual Mechanism), while recognizing that the exact closure dates would depend on the completion of ongoing and soon-to-begin trials and appeals.  He also acknowledged the continuing work of the ICTY to build capacity among judges, prosecutors and defence counsel in the former Yugoslavia and urged all Governments in the region to continue to work towards reconciliation, avoiding statements that inflamed tensions, and to continue to bring accused war criminals to justice in local courts.  On the ICTR, he urged regional Governments to work with the Tribunal on the relocation of several persons who had served their sentences but were unable to return to Rwanda and called upon all States to cooperate with the ICTR in apprehending all remaining fugitives and bringing those accused of mass murder to trial.


GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) said the two Tribunals were important for several reasons.  First, they had a deterrent effect by identifying and punishing offenders of serous crimes.  Second, their existence reflected the commitment of the international community to enforcing international laws and fighting impunity. They were also the main source of inspiration to the establishment of the International Criminal Court.  In addition, they had demonstrated that independent institutions could deliver justice, which was the basis for peace and reconciliation.  It was essential to help the two Tribunals to complete their work on time, he said, sharing concerns expressed by the judges that the lack of staff and loss of experienced employees had affected the pace of work.  He also stressed the need for relocating those persons who had been acquitted by the judges and those who had fully served their sentences.  This was a humanitarian issue that merited careful consideration.  Member States, particularly Council members, should make more efforts in helping solve the problem.


MILAN MILANOVIĆ (Serbia) said that his Government had transferred to the ITFY all those it had indicted and whose transfer it had requested and would also continue its commitment to cooperate in providing access to documentation, archives and witnesses.  In addition, Serbia had tried 399 persons in its national courts for criminal offences against humanitarian law and was willing to accept its own nationals as well as other persons tried by the Tribunal to serve their sentences in Serbia.  Further, Serbia was the first country in Eastern Europe to sign an agreement with the International Criminal Court on the enforcement of sentences.


In that regard, he said that the purpose of punishment also included the re-socialization of sentenced persons, which could hardly be achieved if those sentences were served in countries whose languages they did not know.  Since 2009 Serbia had been working toward the signing of an agreement on the enforcement of sentences and an initiative to have those sentenced by the Tribunal serve their sentences in their own countries.  Regrettably, there had been no breakthrough of any scope in that regard, although the Tribunal’s President had emphasized the need to sign agreements in sufficient numbers to enable its mandate to be successfully completed.


TUVAKO MANONGI (United Republic of Tanzania), noting that acquitted and released persons who needed to be relocated were still in the care of the ICTR detention facility in his country, reiterated his Government’s call to find host countries for the seven acquitted persons who remained in a safe house in Arusha under the Tribunal’s protection, as well as for the three convicted persons who were still in the care of the ICTR detention facility in Arusha.  He encouraged the Mechanism to prioritize the pursuit of agreements with additional Member States for the enforcement of sentences and called on States to continue to cooperate with and support both Tribunals, as well as the Residual Mechanism in tracking and apprehending remaining fugitives who were still at-large so that they could finally be brought to justice.  Noting that the Tribunals were in the final process of concluding their work, he expressed concern that further staff attrition continued to impede the completion strategy goals and called on the Secretariat and other relevant United Nations bodies to find practicable solutions that would facilitate the Tribunals’ completion of their work in a timely manner.


MATEO ESTREME ( Argentina) said he was interested in the work of both Tribunals and the Residual Mechanism and noted that today’s debate was the twentieth anniversary of the ICTY.  He welcomed the news that there were five judgments and three appeals during the reporting period.  He noted the reduction in staff and welcomed the addition of a judge for the appeals chamber.  He stressed the importance of arresting the three remaining fugitives and the responsibility of all States to cooperate with the ICTR.  It also was necessary to relocate the seven people whom were found not guilty.  Turning to the Residual Mechanism, he noted its successful work since its inception in July 2012.  He noted the cooperation between the courts five decades after the Nuremberg Trials.  The international community had to acknowledge the Tribunals’ contribution to international law, particularly international humanitarian law.


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