5 September 2008


5 September 2008
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

PARIS, 5 September -- “Addressing Gross Human Rights Violations:  Prevention and Accountability” was the theme of this morning’s fifth round-table discussion, held at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris on the last day of the sixty-first Department of Public Information (DPI)/Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Conference, convened to discuss human rights implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The panel, moderated by Fatou Bensouda, Deputy Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, with three other experts representing international organizations and NGOs, took questions from members of civil society.

Opening the round table, Ms. Bensouda, said that, in 1948, the United Nations had adopted that Declaration, based on the idea that to protect all citizens, they had to protect each one.  Then, in 1998, the international community had mandated an impartial prosecutor to prosecute criminals when States failed to hold them accountable, with the adoption of the Rome Statute instituting the International Criminal Court.  A system of international criminal justice was thus created in which citizens were granted the right to participate.  It was time that that approach was fully implemented.  Much work had been accomplished to that end, with the establishment of international criminal instances for Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and in Cambodia.  All of that was in the name of saying that there was no place for impunity.  There had to be accountability for the crimes and atrocities committed against the people of the world.

This year marks the 10 years of the International Criminal Court, she said.  It had been working in a number of countries, including in Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Darfur.  A number of persons had already been transferred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other prosecutions and in other cases arrest warrants had been issued, including an arrest warrant against the Sudanese President Al-Bashir for crimes begin committed in Darfur today.  Human rights defenders knew that silence did not help the victims; it only served the criminals.  The silence of the international community might have helped the Sudanese Government, and allowed for individuals like Hamid Haroun to continue.  That was ignoring the strength of the law.  She compared the work before the international community to combat impunity for genocide to those who had fought over a hundred years ago to end slavery.  No one had thought they could do it, but they had.

Speaking on the concept of the responsibility to protect, Jan Eliasson, former United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Darfur, said, as the former President of the General Assembly, he was proud to say he had been part of the creation of that concept.  The responsibility to protect was not the same as that of collective humanitarian intervention, a concept that was floated in the 1990s, but which had never been adopted.  Indeed, perhaps one reason that the concept of the responsibility to protect had been agreed by States was the fact that it actually reinforced State sovereignty, spelling out as it did that it was the primary responsibility of States to protect their citizens.  The responsibility to protect, which in terms of international intervention implied the proper functioning of the Security Council, was crucial.  While it was now a norm, it was still not international law.  But in time it could become one.  He suggested that, to that end, it should be printed out and placed in all Parliaments of the world.

Continuing on the responsibility to protect, William Pace, Executive Director, World Federalist Movement and Convener of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, noted that that concept of the responsibility to protect, which allowed the international community to intervene in cases of war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity, and the International Criminal Court, which held individuals responsible for those same crimes, were complementary.  Both the Ottawa Convention, against the use of landmines, which had been negotiated outside the United Nations, and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court, which had been negotiated by it, were instances of the movement in 1990s by the international community to address human security issues.  The Court was a tremendous achievement in enforcing the international conventions on genocide, torture, and others.  There were now 107 countries that were now States parties.  It was a tribute to the shared work of civil society, working together with the United Nations.  With the worsening global situation and the resurgence of militarism and unilateralism, both of those processes -- which had emerged out of the failure of the international community to prevent massive crimes against humanity, including genocide and war crimes in Rwanda and the Balkans -- had to be used.

Following the panellists’ statements, a statement was heard from a student activist from the Sudan, who complained that reporters and others who came to the Sudan to investigate war crimes were only shown a cleaned up version of what was going on, and never had access to the areas where the real crimes were being perpetrated.  In that connection, the Sudanese people were in dire need of human rights education.  Most Sudanese were ignorant of their rights.

The session concluded with an interactive discussion between participants and panellists.

When the DPI/NGO Conference reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will hold a formal closing, which will provide feedback on the five round tables, and featuring closing remarks from a number of senior United Nations and Government officials, as well as human rights activists, including Ingrid Betancourt.

(Please see the separate press release for this morning’s other round table, round table four on “Human Rights Education and Learning as a Way of Life”.)

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