|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
press conference by deputy prosecutor of International Criminal Court
to provide updates on current trials, investigations
The International Criminal Court was “truly in motion” and set to begin its first trial next March, but its judicial decisions were being challenged, and some States parties were calling for amnesty, indictment withdrawals and other ways to avoid prosecution, supposedly in the name of peace, Fatou Bensouda, the Court’s Deputy Prosecutor, said at a Headquarters press briefing today.
“Individuals sought by the Court are often enjoying the protection of armies or militias, some of them are members of Governments eager to shield them from justice. This is precisely why we need a strong commitment from the international community,” Ms. Bensouda said. “The responsibility to see justice delivered is a shared goal and carries shared burdens.”
She said that, while it was indeed difficult to arrest criminals amid ongoing conflicts, States parties must uphold the law and cooperate with the Court to secure arrests so that trials could take place, otherwise they were actively undermining the Court. “Taking the major perpetrators out of circulation is a major contribution to peace.” The 1998 Rome Statute establishing the Court called for close interaction with national authorities, and States parties should not assist individuals sought by the Court in any way. Instead, they should share information on suspect tracking, logistics and specialized training for arrest operations.
On 31 March, the Court would try Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, the alleged founder and leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais, for enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 as soldiers, she said. However, six arrests were outstanding. They include, in northern Uganda, those of Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, all accused of conscripting and enslaving children, slaughtering their families and forcing the displacement of millions. In April, the Court had charged Ahmad Harun for organizing a system to attack civilians in Darfur, but the Government of the Sudan had since appointed him Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs. The Court had also issued an arrest warrant for pro-Government militia leader Ali Mohammed Ali Abdalrahman, similarly for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He remained at large.
She recalled that, in October, another Congolese warlord, Germain Katanga, former commander of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri (FRPI), had been arrested and transferred to The Hague. And in May, the Prosecutor had announced the launch of an investigation in the Central African Republic, and the Court was in the process of selecting a third case in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
By upholding Court decisions, countries could prevent a return to violence, she said. For example, the prosecution of people using hate speech in Côte d’Ivoire had kept the main perpetrators of hate crimes under control. And in Colombia, the Rome Statute had influenced legal proceedings against the country’s paramilitaries.
Responding to questions, she said that under the Rome Statue all States parties were obliged to support the Court in securing the arrest of suspected perpetrators physically within their territories. As for who footed the bill for trying criminals, that depended on the situation. For example, the Government of France had offered a plane to transport Mr. Lubanga from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the Court had to pay for the transfer of Mr. Katanga.
Regarding the Court’s recourse when a Government refused to follow its instructions for an arrest, she said only States parties were obliged to cooperate and, if they did not, the Court could report them to the Assembly of States parties. In the Darfur case, the Sudanese Government had said it was not obliged to follow the Court’s ruling because it was not a signatory to the Rome Statute. Because that case had been referred by a State party, the Prosecutor could report Sudan’s non-compliance to the United Nations Security Council, which it had done.
While the Court was obligated to disclose to the defence any evidence that would incriminate or exonerate a suspect, it had to balance disclosure against the protection of victims and witnesses, she stressed, adding that if early disclosure would jeopardize their security, the Court would withhold information until it could protect them. By the time the Lubanga case went to trial in March 2008, the Prosecutor would be in a position to make a full disclosure to the defence, as stipulated under the Rome Statute.
Asked about criticism by human rights groups that Mr. Lubanga had only been indicted for child conscription and not sexual violence and murder, she dismissed the notion that recruiting and employing child soldiers was a petty crime, less serious than killing or sexual crimes. “The charges are very serious. This is the first time that an international criminal court has brought a case solely based on those charges. We are hoping that this will build consensus around the seriousness of these crimes.”
As for plans to bring to justice Manuel Contreras, former head of Chile’s Directorate of National Intelligence, and other Latin American and United States officials allegedly involved in Operation Condor during the 1970s, she said the Court could only investigate and try crimes committed after its inception in 2002.
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