Residual Mechanism Crucial to Preserve Legacies of Closed Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda, Former Yugoslavia, Speakers Tell General Assembly

GA/12079
17 October 2018
Seventy-third Session, 21st Meeting (PM)

Residual Mechanism Crucial to Preserve Legacies of Closed Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda, Former Yugoslavia, Speakers Tell General Assembly

Protection of Victims Ongoing Despite Limited Budget, Staff, President Says

The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals is essential to ensuring that the legacies of the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals endure, the General Assembly heard today, as speakers considered the Mechanism’s first year as a “stand‑alone institution”.

Mechanism President Theodor Meron presented its activities, challenges, and achievements of the past year.  Following the closure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in December 2017, and without the support of its predecessors, the Mechanism weathered unexpected budgetary and staffing constraints, he said.

Despite those challenges, the Mechanism made good progress providing protection and support for vulnerable victims, he said.  The Mechanism’s Prosecutor has continued efforts to locate and arrest the remaining fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Mechanism.

“In many ways we have redoubled our efforts to improve operations, working methods, and procedures,” Mr. Meron said, stressing that the cooperation of Member States remains vital to ensuring that fugitives are brought to justice.

The legacy of these Tribunals is remarkable, he continued, calling the Tribunals “true pioneers, blazing a trail to ensure accountability” for violations of international law.  The Tribunals for Rwanda and for the Former Yugoslavia were born of compelling demands for justice and accountability.  They demonstrated the importance of fairness and due process.  They brought into sharp focus the horrific atrocities committed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and across the region of the former Yugoslavia during the terrible conflicts there.

In the ensuing discussion, several Member States noted that for the first time since its establishment, the Mechanism is carrying out the full range of functions entrusted to it without the support of its now‑closed predecessor Tribunals.

The representative of the European Union expressed concern over the Mechanism’s budgetary and staffing difficulties.  He commended the Mechanism for carrying out its responsibilities and pledged the European Union’s support and commitment to helping it carry out its mandate.

Canada’s delegate, also speaking on behalf of Australia and New Zealand, said that despite the many challenges, the Mechanism was able to achieve several goals, including the transfer of eight prisoners from a United Nations detention facility to the custody of national authorities.  Negotiations for the transfer of the four remaining prisoners are at an advanced stage and are expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

 “The pursuit for justice is not over,” the representative of the United States said, noting that eight Rwandans remain at large.  The United States will not cease its search, she warned, expressing hope that efforts to collect intelligence and leads on the eight fugitives indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal will lead to their apprehension.

The representative of the Russian Federation, however, said he had a less “sunny” view of the Mechanism’s work.  He expressed concern that the Mechanism was using “tricks and tactics” and following dubious practices regarding human resources management.  The recent shuffling of judges has raised doubts of the Mechanism’s impartiality, he said, also expressing concern that the entity was conducting work in countries outside its mandate.

At the end of the meeting, the Assembly took note of the Mechanism’s sixth annual report, contained in a note of the Secretary‑General.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Peru, Mexico, Serbia and Turkey.

The General Assembly will meet again at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 18 October, to consider the impact of rapid technological change on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Opening remarks

THEODOR MERON, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals said that over the course of nearly three quarters of a century, the United Nations has borne witness to horrific atrocities and utter inhumanity.  The United Nations has been at its undeniable best when it acts swiftly and decisively to prevent suffering and when it takes concrete steps to ensure commitment to justice, accountability and rule of law.  The International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the Former Yugoslavia were born of compelling demands for justice and accountability.  These Tribunals were true pioneers, blazing a trail to ensure accountability for violations of international law.  They demonstrated the importance of fairness and due process.  They brought into sharp focus the horrific atrocities committed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and across the region of the former Yugoslavia during the terrible conflicts there.

The legacy of these Tribunals is remarkable, he continued, also noting that the Mechanism has made good progress over the course of the past year.  It has provided protection and support for vulnerable victims.  As detailed in the report, the Mechanism’s Prosecutor has continued efforts to locate and arrest the remaining fugitives indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal and the Mechanism.  The cooperation of Member States with these efforts remains vital to ensuring that fugitives are brought to justice.  The Mechanism has also continued to be engaged in a wide range of judicial activities; its judges issued one appeal judgement and scores of other decisions during the reporting period.  The judges have also adopted a revision to their Code of Professional Conduct that introduced a disciplinary procedure.

As outlined in the Mechanism’s sixth annual report — contained in a note of the Secretary‑General (document A/73/289-S/2018/569), the Mechanism reached another important milestone with the closure of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal in December 2017, he said.  Following that, the Mechanism began to operate as a stand‑alone institution, without the support of its predecessors.  The Mechanism weathered unexpected budgetary challenges during this time, he said, adding that it was the dedication of the Mechanism’s staff and support of the General Assembly that allowed the Mechanism to emerge with resilience.  “In many ways we have redoubled our efforts to improve operations, working methods, and procedures,” he said.

Since the reporting period has ended there have been several developments, he continued, noting that the Mechanism’s courthouse in Arusha carried out its first judicial activity in September.  The first hearing for five individuals indicted on charges of contempt of court has demonstrated the Mechanism’s readiness to respond at short notice.  He also noted that changes have been made to the composition of the Appeals Chamber benches hearing the appeals in the cases of Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić.  While having full confidence in his fellow judges now on the benches of these two cases, he expressed regret that he will no longer be in a position to see the Karadžić case to its conclusion.

Statements

ERIC CHABOUREAU, European Union, said Judge Meron has contributed significantly to enhancing and developing international criminal law and justice during his time with the Residual Mechanism and congratulated Judge Carmel Agius on her appointment as President of the Mechanism starting 19 January 2019.  The European Union underlines the importance of respecting the judicial independence of the Mechanism and its judges.  He noted that eight fugitives indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal remain at large and expressed appreciation for the work carried out by the participants in the European and African Task Forces established by the Office of the Prosecutor to locate fugitives.  Citing the Mechanism’s report, he said national prosecutors are now essential to achieving greater justice for the victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide committed in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.

“We note with concern that the budgetary constraints have exposed the Mechanism to difficulties in terms of staffing,” he said.  The European Union commended the Mechanism for carrying out its responsibilities after the closure of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal and for achieving gender parity goals within its staff.  Turning to the enforcement of sentences, he thanked Member States that accepted the transfer of persons to serve their sentences on their territory and African States that accepted persons either acquitted or released after the completion of their sentences.  He closed by saying that the European Union “will continue to be a strong supporter of international criminal justice whose mission is the promotion of the rule of law, the fight against impunity and the maintenance of international peace and security”.

RICHARD ARBEITER (Canada), also speaking on behalf of New Zealand and Australia, said that the ongoing work of the Mechanism ensures that the legacies of the ad hoc tribunals endure.  “The international community should be extremely proud of the accomplishments of these pioneering tribunals,” he added.  Now that their mandates have concluded, the Mechanism carries on that essential work.  It is vital for the international community to continue to offer support to this and other residual mechanisms in order to encourage lasting and positive impacts on affected communities.  For the first time since its establishment, the Mechanism is carrying out the full range of functions entrusted to it without the support of its now‑closed predecessor Tribunals.

Urging the Mechanism to draw upon the best practices and lessons-learned of the Tribunals, he acknowledged the limited resources with which the Mechanism operates.  He highlighted the Mechanism’s several achievements, including that eight prisoners were transferred from the United Nations detention facility in Arusha to the custody of authorities in Member States.  Negotiations for the transfer of the four remaining prisoners are at an advanced stage and are expected to be completed by the end of 2018.  These transfers are a significant step towards the completion of the Mechanism’s mandate.  Noting that eight fugitives indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal remain at large, he said that three of the eight are to be tried by the Mechanism and the remaining five are to be tried by the Government of Rwanda.  He urged Member States to provide greater cooperation to secure their arrest and surrender.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said his country is committed to multilateralism and international law and believes that the functions of the Residual Mechanism will continue to contribute to international criminal law, even as its role decreases with time.  The Mechanism contributes to the fight against impunity.  He took note of amendments made to the Mechanism’s rules of procedure to increase its efficiency and commended the willingness of African and European countries to accept persons to serve their sentences on their territory.  “The success of the Mechanism depends on the cooperation of States,” he said, adding that Peru remains committed to justice, the rule of law and the work of the Mechanism.

PABLO ADRIÁN ARROCHA OLABUENAGA (Mexico) said the Mechanism’s report reflects the challenges it faces and presents its achievements over the reporting period.  He took note of the difficulties faced by the Mechanism, particularly the fact that it is discharging its responsibilities without the financial support of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal for the first time.  The Mechanism is working to establish itself as a small, temporary structure capable of meeting immediate needs and long‑term priorities, he said, adding that the Mechanism is proving itself an efficient entity.  He reiterated that the work of the Mechanism is crucial to ensure the effective culmination of judicial procedures initiated by the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals and to preserve and disseminate the valuable legacy of those Tribunals.

MARGARITA PALAU-HERNANDEZ (United States) said justice and accountability at the international and national levels remain critically important, particularly in the face of ongoing conflicts where grave crimes are committed.  She commended the Mechanism for smoothly assuming the functions of the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals and noted that the Mechanism adopted amendments and policies to increase its efficiency and clarity regarding its procedures.  She expressed hope that efforts to collect intelligence and leads on the eight fugitives indicted by the Rwanda Tribunal that remain at large will lead to their apprehension.  The United States commends the assistance provided to national jurisdictions in their own prosecution of atrocity crimes.  “The Mechanism has been, and should continue to be, supportive of appropriate prosecution by sovereign national Governments,” she said.

She noted this October marks the twentieth anniversary of the first rewards that the United States authorized for information leading to the arrest of individuals responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, including for crimes in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.  “The pursuit for justice is not over,” she said, adding that eight Rwandans remain at large.  “You are not forgotten,” she told the victims of those individuals, while warning fugitives that the United States will not cease its search.  The facts established through the proceedings of Tribunals on the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda offer an opportunity to reach a shared understanding of what happened and prevent recurrence.  The efforts of those tribunals “show that justice can be achieved when the international community comes together”, she said.

SANDRA PEJIC (Serbia) said her country fulfils all its obligations regarding cooperation with the Mechanism.  Serbia’s institutions continue to facilitate the Mechanism’s access to evidence, documents, archives and witnesses.  Witnesses have been allowed to testify freely.  Serbia’s initiative relating to the enforcement of sentences in the countries of origin will continue to help carry out punishment and reconciliation, which the enforcement of the sentences in far‑off countries does not do.  The convicted do not understand the language of those countries and are often kept in inadequate conditions and provided inadequate health care.  Serbia guarantees that all security measures will be taken for sentences served in the country of origin.  Serbia remains committed to processing war crimes irrespective of the nationality of the perpetrators.  Regional cooperation is the only way to achieve reconciliation and stable relations between neighbouring countries.  She also expressed regret over the circumstances at the Mechanism which led to former Judge Aydin Sefa Akay not being reappointed, she added.

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said his statement would not be as “sunny” as those that came before his and that expectations that the Mechanism would prove to be worthy of its creation are “excessively optimistic”.  The Mechanism is using “tricks and tactics similar to those of the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal” and seems to be following dubious practices regarding human resources management.  He noted a shuffling of judges at the Mechanism that included the recusal of its President.  “It is unclear to us how judges that migrated to the Mechanism were initially appointed to appeals cases,” he said, referring specifically to the cases of Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić.  This raises doubts of the impartiality of proceedings, he noted.

He said the Mechanism’s leadership is focused on “internal intrigue” and that the Russian Federation has issued warnings on the matter at the Security Council.  He voiced concern about Mr. Mladić’s health and reiterated that if prison doctors cannot provide proper assistance he must be released to seek treatment in the Russian Federation or Serbia.  Turning to capacity‑building activities, he said the Mechanism is acting against Security Council resolutions by conducting work in countries outside its mandate.  The Mechanism must cease such activities and not become distracted with tasks not included in its mandate, he concluded.

Right of reply

The representative of Turkey, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, noted the “unfortunate remarks” made by the representatives of the European Union and Serbia mentioning Judge Aydin Sefa Akay.  In June 2018, the United Nations Secretariat decided not to reappoint him to the roster as he was facing criminal charges in Turkey.  “No one is above the law,” she added.

For information media. Not an official record.