|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by General Assembly President
The past weeks have been a busy and exciting time featuring a number of historic events, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić ( Serbia) said today as he reviewed recent meetings and forecast the schedule for the coming months.
Among recent landmark events was the Assembly’s historic adoption of the very significant Arms Trade Treaty, he said, characterizing that event as “one of the most significant breakthroughs in the United Nations system on the international trade in arms”. In addition, much work was being undertaken on the post-2015 development agenda under the auspices of the General Assembly, including the Open Working Group on the yet-to-be-elaborated sustainable development goals. He said he had also attended a recent high-level event of the Secretary-General on the post-2015 agenda in Bali and Indonesia, and several follow-up events would be organized.
Mr. Jeremić said that among other work streams relating to the post-2015 agenda, he had appointed Permanent Representatives of Norway and Kazakhstan to help structure a group of 30 experts on financing for sustainable development. He had also appointed Brazil and Italy as co-facilitators to help create the high-level forum that would replace the Commission on Sustainable Development, which would be tasked with monitoring and fulfilling the sustainable development goals once they were crafted and adopted.
He also spotlighted an upcoming high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals — the last of its kind — to be held on 25 September and intended to mark the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the sustainable development agenda. Moreover, many efforts were being undertaken to bring various work streams relating to the development of the post-2015 agenda together, he said, adding that he would create an informal panel of all the relevant facilitators, in keeping with his “holistic vision” of the next 1,000 days leading up to the deadline for attaining the Millennium Development Goals.
The Assembly had also held a number of important thematic debates recently, the subjects for which it was the President’s prerogative to choose, Mr. Jeremić said. They included a 22 March event on water, which was timely, since 2013 was the International Year of Water, and another on international criminal justice. Held on 10 April, it was the first time that the topic had been discussed in thematic plenary format, he said, adding that the event had attracted the highest number of participants in history, with 82 delegations registered to speak.
Indeed, he continued, since the “landmark” event had taken place 20 years after the creation of the first ad hoc criminal tribunals, it had been an appropriate time in which to reflect upon the past of international criminal justice and examine both best practices and possible mistakes. While some people had obviously been uncomfortable with the topic being debated in an open plenary session, “there should be no taboo subjects in the General Assembly”, he emphasized. Indeed, there had been attempts to boycott the event, “but they ultimately failed” due to the “vast” number of participants.
Yesterday, another important landmark debate had been held on the role of the United Nations in global economic governance, with an emphasis on possible further interaction between the United Nations and the G-20, he said. That was of paramount importance given the latter’s prominence, he said, pointing out that G-20 decisions “invariably affect […] each Member State”. E ach State should, therefore, have its voice heard during discussions of global economic issues, he said, adding that the Assembly might provide a platform for an exchange of views and thoughts.
Mr. Jeremić recalled that he had presented a number of proposals during the meeting with the aim of regularizing interaction between the Assembly and the G-20. Among the high-level speakers who had also presented their views in that regard, were a Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission.
The Assembly President said that on 25 April, a high-level event on “Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts in Africa” would be timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Organization of African Unity, predecessor to the African Union. Hopefully, a declaration would come out of the event in celebration of the anniversary. The month of May would be reserved for a major event on climate change and sustainability, he went on. Again, it would be the first time for the issue to be discussed in thematic plenary session, he noted, adding, “I believe that world diplomats will benefit from this event being held,” as many were not well acquainted with the issue. Both economic and climate issues were geopolitical enough to merit discussion in thematic debates.
Mr. Jeremić said that in June, there would be a similar event on culture — organized with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) — and its links to sustainable development. In July, meanwhile, the Assembly would host an event on social inequality, whose principal partner would be the Organization of American States (OAS). While discussions would focus on Latin America, they would not be limited to that region, he stressed.
Also in July, a special event, not branded as a thematic debate, would be held on the role of education objectives in the sustainable development agenda, with a special view to how well the goal had been fulfilled in the Millennium Development Goals. The Assembly was ready to deal with other “hotspots” under its purview, and to address them as they arose.
Asked about criticisms of the thematic debate on international criminal justice, particularly whether it reflected badly on the presidency, Mr. Jeremić said: “It’s a topic of immense importance for the international community” and one “worth debating” in the Assembly. As for accusations of bias in relation to the event, he said he had split the meeting into two segments: a “State part”, in which all States were invited to speak with no time limit; and a series of expert panel discussions on the topic.
Regarding the panels, he acknowledged that there had been strongly-worded accusations of bias relating to their structure. He then read out a list of panellists who had been officially invited, and proposed that correspondents e-mail him requests for copies of the actual correspondence between his office and the invitees. Those invited included the Presidents of the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; a former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and current judge of its Rwandan counterpart; the Director of Human Rights Watch; the attorney for a number of Croatian indictees; the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court; the former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; a representative of the Non-governmental Centre for Criminal Justice; the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs; and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.
Mr. Jeremić said that some of those 11 individuals had confirmed their participation, but had then written to withdraw “after thinking about the invitation” for a few weeks. “I was accused of bias,” he said, emphasizing, however, that if those invited had attended, they would have been “very supportive” of international criminal justice. “Somebody obviously thought that I could be embarrassed […] or intimidated by all those cancellations”, and persuaded to give up the topic, but he did not respond to that kind of pressure, he said.
He said it was likely that, following the cancellations, the afternoon panel had been “very critical” of international criminal justice. “That wasn’t my intention,” he stressed, noting that his office had worked with whoever had accepted an invitation. Jordan’s Permanent Representative had boasted of having asked other delegations not to participate in the debate, but that strategy had obviously not garnered wide support, he said. “I would accept no pressure to give up a free and democratic debate.”
Responding to a question about the Srebrenica massacre — “a terrible atrocity” — Mr. Jeremić said he had represented his country at a number of anniversary commemorations, and had pushed through Serbia’s Parliament a resolution issuing an apology. “European history is full of tragedies […] that require contrition,” he said, pointing out that Serbia, through that resolution, had been the first to issue such an official apology.
In the same vein, he addressed accusations levelled last week by the organization “Mothers of Srebrenica”, including that the President had not been helpful in facilitating the group’s participation in the meeting. In response, Mr. Jeremić shared written correspondence between that organization and his Office, saying it had occurred “at a very late date”. In short, Mothers of Srebrenica had been invited “at the first show of interest”.
Noting that some the discussions had involved “expert panels”, he said Mothers of Srebrenica were not exactly experts on international criminal justice. “This was not about victims”, nor just about the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, he said, pointing out that if victims from the former Yugoslavia had been invited, others would have had to be invited from Rwanda, Cambodia and many other countries.
Mr. Jeremić went on to say that someone trying to put up posters in the back of the room had breached the General Assembly’s rules of conduct. United Nations Security had acted in accordance with the terms of engagement, and had asked those people to leave. Denying as “categorically untrue” claims that his “wolves” had muscled the group out of the room, Mr. Jeremić said that the speaker from the Mothers of Srebrenica had made strong personal insults linking him to Serbia’s former President, and indicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic. He had found those comments personally offensive as it was well known that he had risked his life in the resistance movement against the Milosevic regime.
Asked about an allegation of bias relating to the fact that the primary speaker at the General Assembly event had been the President of Serbia, a known critic of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, he said “every single country was invited in the same way”. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia had chosen to send their Heads of State, who had spoken in accordance with alphabetical order. Speakers at the ministerial level, including the one from Rwanda, had then delivered statements, in line with the Assembly’s rules. “There were no keynote speakers,” he emphasized.
When asked about the last-minute inclusion of retired Major General Lewis MacKenzie, a controversial figure and vocal opponent of the international criminal justice system, Mr. Jeremić said he personally believed that accusations against the General were unfounded. “He spoke well for himself,” he added, adding that Gen Lewis had been the commander on the ground when the atrocities later addressed by the Tribunal had occurred.
As for the boycott of the meeting by several countries, he said only two States had “spoken loudly” to the effect that they were boycotting the event, which had happened, interestingly, at the same time as cancellations by invitees had begun. “I would have thought there would be more courage” to discuss the topic of international criminal justice openly, he said. Unfortunately, many had not been ready to hear the “sacred cow” of international criminal justice criticized.
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