25 July 2008


25 July 2008
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



While the links between peace and justice were sometimes sensitive and complex, impunity and amnesties for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes were unacceptable, Nicolas Michel, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, said at Headquarters this afternoon.

Speaking at a farewell press conference, Mr. Michel said that, in the past, it had often been assumed that either peace or justice was possible, but not both.  Today’s dilemma was not over which to choose, but how to link the two.  It was not merely a question of sequencing; justice was among the necessary conditions for a sustainable peace, as in the challenging but true slogan: “No peace without justice”.

It was more a question of balance, he said, noting that warlords sometimes had to be arrested because peace was unachievable while they remained in the picture.  At other times they were needed to negotiate a peace agreement -- which did not mean they would not eventually end up behind bars.  Difficulties arose today around the compatibility of judicial accountability and the mechanisms that could guarantee it with peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.  That was particularly visible in the case of Uganda, where Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), had not shown up for the final peace negotiations, because he was not entirely sure he would not be prosecuted.

He said other challenges occurred when the establishment of a judicial mechanism was difficult to reconcile with a search for internal political stability, or when it was linked to conditions for a cessation of hostilities.  Such was the deal offered to former Liberian president Charles Taylor with regard to the civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.  Burundi provided another example of the potential tension between mechanisms designed for justice and those supporting truth and reconciliation.

While there was no clear “one-size-fits-all” solution, there were several requirements that should be fulfilled if the right arrangement were to be found, he said.  First, the overall objective of sustainable peace should be a priority.  Judicial accountability must also be integrated into the design of a peace project from the beginning.  Sequencing was likewise important.

Additionally, judicial mechanisms should be understood as independent instruments rather than political tools, and respect for judicial decisions must be ensured, he said.  Outreach was also necessary, particularly to include civil society and especially when there was no proximity between the court of justice and the scene of the crime.  Domestic capacity must be bolstered while objectivity and impartiality were necessary postures when tribunals were set up.  Finally, victims must be protected, as did the fragile culture around the concept of “ending impunity”.

On the last point, he emphasized that, because the culture of ending impunity was new, fragile and still fragmented, there must be progress towards making that culture more universal and ensuring it was perceived as equal for everyone.  Faced with a dilemma between justice for everybody and no justice for anyone, the solution was to say “you want to make progress as much as you can; you want to develop that culture with the hope that, down the road, it will be equal for everyone”.

Asked about rumours that political deals could compromise the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, he said the main elements for the Tribunal were in place, including the Registrar in The Hague, the Prosecutor and the judges.  The Tribunal had not been negatively affected in any way by events in the country.  “On the contrary, there was never any talk about the course of action being amended in view of the evolution of the circumstances.”

“The Tribunal will be created, it will be there,” he stressed, pointing out that it was the Secretary-General, not the Security Council, who oversaw the investigation.  He would decide how to proceed, in consultation with the Lebanese Government and on the basis of the progress achieved by the investigation and receipt of the necessary funding.

As far as the Tribunal’s funding was concerned, he pointed out that the issue went beyond the case of Lebanon.  As subsidiary bodies of the Security Council, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda were funded through assessed contributions.  Those in Sierra Leone, Cambodia or Lebanon were funded through voluntary contributions, despite the Secretariat’s position that the formula did not work well.  The first year of the Lebanon Tribunal was covered and more funding had been pledged.

Asked whether there would be constraints on the Secretary-General and on the Department of Peacekeeping Operations if President Omer al-Bashir of Sudan were indicted, Mr. Michel said the Organization was going through a learning process and policies must be established and amended on the basis of lessons learned.  It was true that, in the past, the United Nations had learned that implementing some of its most vital, mandated activities might require it to be in contact with warlords, for example.  In the case of Sudan, the Security Council resolution authorizing the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) had no mandate to arrest anyone in Sudan indicted by the International Criminal Court.

Responding to a question about the International Criminal Court’s work being limited to Africa and being applied selectively, even politically, as a result, he said it was largely thanks to Africa that the Rome Statute had been adopted and the Court set up.  A large number of States on that continent had ratified the Statute, and Uganda had submitted its own case to the International Criminal Court, as had the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Looking at the broad picture, the largest number of people convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia were Europeans.  Moreover, the judges at the International Criminal Court were eager to demonstrate their independence.

Asked what suggestions he might have for the United Nations on staffing matters, he emphasized that when the Organization had been created, an independent civil service had been envisioned to staff it.  To achieve that, the current pension system should be more flexible and conceived for mobility.

Looking back on his time with the United Nations, he said: “Any time we can achieve even an inch in favour of victims or people who are ill-treated on this Earth, it is worth it.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.