Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Justice vs. Impunity

By KOFI A. ANNAN

The establishment of the International Criminal Court followed the gravest of crimes committed in Rwanda and the former Republic of Yugoslavia. In both cases, as we know to our shame, the United Nations and international community failed to take decisive and forceful action to protect the victims.

These terrible events did however, shock the world into action. Ad-hoc tribunals were set up to bring those responsible to justice. The Rome conference in 1998 agreed to establish an International Criminal Court to help end the global culture of impunity.

As the states party to the Rome Statute — which set up the I.C.C. — meet in Uganda this week to review progress, we can reflect that the balance has been tipped in favor of justice. More than two-thirds of U.N. member states have signed or ratified the Rome Statute and a permanent Criminal Court now exists.

The result is that in the face of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, the default position of the international community is no longer impunity but accountability.

Where such serious crimes are credibly alleged, investigation will now follow unless those denying the need for international justice can demonstrate that their national judicial mechanisms are serious and credible. This is, by the way, something yet to be done convincingly by those involved in the intensified conflicts in Gaza and Sri Lanka last year.

Getting this far has not been without major challenges. Powerful governments remain resolutely opposed to the I.C.C. Three permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, China and Russia — refuse to ratify the Rome Statute, as do others who aspire to permanent membership.

So while celebrating progress so far, we can’t be complacent. The opposition of those hostile to the I.C.C., combined with the inertia or distraction of those who support it, could mean the balance could easily tip away from justice.

And new challenges loom, including a debate within Africa, and beyond, about whether the pursuit of justice might obstruct the search for peace. The critics ask why leaders would want to make peace if the result for them is an appearance before the I.C.C. and the prospect of prison.

But in countries as far apart as Rwanda, Bosnia and Timor-Leste, we have learnt that justice is not an impediment to peace but a partner. When we abandon justice to secure peace, we most likely get neither. Indeed, impunity can, and has, contributed to renewed conflict as we saw in Sierra Leone.

The parallel pursuit of justice and peace does present challenges, but it can be managed. We must be ambitious enough to pursue both, and wise enough to recognize, respect and protect the independence of justice.

This debate has been intensified by the African Union’s call last year, following the prompting of a few leaders, for member states not to cooperate with the I.C.C. in enforcing the indictment issued against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan.

But we must not allow the views of a powerful few to threaten the aspirations of many. When I meet Africans from all walks of life, they demand justice: from their own courts if possible, from international courts if no credible alternative exists.

Indeed, African countries and their civil society played a major role in setting up the I.C.C. Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest single regional block in its membership.

In four of the five cases from Africa before the I.C.C., African leaders themselves referred them or are actively co-operating with the investigations. They have asked for international help to bolster their country’s judicial capacity.

In all of these cases, it is the culture of impunity, not African countries, which are the target. This is exactly the role of the I.C.C. It is a court of last resort.

But it is not just African countries which face challenges if we are to continue the momentum towards justice.

Questions of credibility will continue as long as some of the world’s most powerful countries stand outside the jurisdiction of the I.C.C. What sort of leadership is it that absolves the powerful from the rules they apply to the weak? We must demand that those who seek global leadership accept the duty of promoting global values.

We need to see a new wave of countries ratifying the Rome Statute after the Kampala conference, so that a permanent International Criminal Court becomes a universal one.

Further progress also depends on states genuinely exercising their primary responsibility, under the Rome Statute, to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for grave crimes.

There must be no going back or lessening of momentum. Our challenge is to protect the innocent by building a court so strong, universal and effective that it will deter even the most determined of despots.

Opening the Rome Conference as U.N. Secretary-General, I told delegates that “the eyes of the victims of past crimes, and of the potential victims of future ones, are fixed firmly upon us.”

That remains the case. We must not let them down.

Kofi A. Annan is former U.N. secretary-general (1997-2006) and the convener of the Rome Conference.

Source: The New York Times

Public Forum Closing Remarks by H.E. Mr. Zahir Tanin Head of Delegation Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Public Forum is drawing to a close. The delegation of the Committee is grateful for the very informative presentations by the invited speakers and enjoyed the lively exchange of views during the discussions. My special thanks go to the two moderators, Ms. Phyllis Bennis and Dr. Sylvia Tiryaki, who so ably steered us through the session.

Dear Friends,

The Palestinian people have suffered too much and for too long. All of us in every capacity — Governments, the United Nations and civil society — must each play our own role to bring justice back to them.

Today the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was able to learn from you – from your analyses of the situation on the ground, and about your efforts to bring peace and justice to Jerusalem. We’ve heard about your tireless advocacy work, your relentless protests, your personal sacrifices and your invocations of international law.

I would like to assure you that we will take your messages back to New York – to the members of the Committee, and through them, the wider membership of the United Nations.

You should know that the Committee stands behind your efforts and encourages you to keep working towards a just and lasting peace. We support all your efforts to broaden the movement, to involve more organizations and individuals in your efforts. And we will continue to work with you. Wherever possible, we will provide you with a platform, like this Public Forum here in Istanbul, to widen your outreach, your networking and coordination. We will keep cataloguing your actions and analyses in the UN Division for Palestinian Rights’ “NGO Action News”. In that regard, please keep the Division updated about your activities, new initiatives and campaigns, including your work with other stakeholders, such as trade unions or parliamentarians.

Also, wherever possible, we will be inviting your representatives to report directly at Committee meetings or to speak at events organized under the Committee’s auspices. And of course, we are always happy to hear about your ideas to enhance our future cooperation.

The important thing is that we all stay connected and work together towards our common goal: the exercise by the Palestinian people of its inalienable rights, the right to self-determination, the right of return of the Palestine refugees, and an independent State with East Jerusalem as its capital.

I thank you once again for your participation in this meeting and with you a safe journey back.

With that, I declare closed the United Nations Public Forum in Support of the Palestinian People.

Public Forum Opening Remarks by H.E. Mr. Zahir Tanin Head of Delegation Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

On behalf of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, I would like to warmly welcome you to the United Nations Public Forum in Support of the Palestinian People.

Many of you also attended the United Nations International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, which just concluded yesterday. Among the topics discussed at that gathering was the question of Jerusalem, as a key to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Since this issue is of utmost concern to us all, it will also be the focus for this meeting of civil society.

Jerusalem arouses global passions in a way that few other locales can. And yet those passions, instead of creating a bastion of cross-cultural understanding and harmony, are changing one of the world’s great cities from a symbol of spiritualism and co-existence into one of injustice and suppression.

The international community has never recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem following its occupation in June 1967. Also our Committee views East Jerusalem as an integral part of the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel. We regularly point out and criticize Israeli policies of creating facts on the ground and changing the demographic composition of the city.

Since 1967, Israel has built more than 50,000 homes for Israelis in East Jerusalem. Compare that to 600 homes for Palestinians, the last of which were built 35 years ago. Since they cannot build legally, Palestinians are being forced to build without permits, which often leads to Israeli demolitions of their homes. And when it comes to real estate in the holy city of Jerusalem, an Israeli can buy a home anywhere. But a Palestinian cannot.

As we all know, East Jerusalem is home to a wealth of religious, archaeological and cultural sites. But we are seeing control of many of these sites falling into the hands of extreme settler groups. As a result, the Christian, Muslim and Palestinian aspects of the city are being swept under the rug. And because of Israeli restrictions, Palestinian Muslims and Christians are losing access to the historical mosques and churches to which they are emotionally attached.

The Committee considers that a negotiated solution on the status of Jerusalem, which takes into account the political and religious concerns of all sides, should be an integral part of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lasting peace in the entire region. It should include internationally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and of conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to holy places by the Palestinian people and peoples of all religions and nationalities.

Any agreement that does not include East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian State will not lead to sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace. Also, Government-sanctioned settlement construction, transfer of settlers, house demolitions, evictions of Palestinian residents and other action aimed at altering or purporting to alter the legal status and physical and demographic character of the city, constitute violations of international law and must be ceased and rescinded.

It is my hope that today’s Public Forum will give you, as members of civil society, the chance to share your views on the situation in the city and to discuss on how to move forward on the topic of Jerusalem, and thus, on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general. You will hear presentations on what is happening in the city today, including on home demolitions, forced evictions, settlements, the revocation of residency rights and IDs, and security concerns, including rising crime rates. A specific emphasis has been put on the role of non-State actors in promoting peace in Jerusalem, including through interfaith dialogue and people-to-people diplomacy.

Today’s meeting is part of our Committee’s programme of cooperation with civil society by providing venues and opportunities for organizations and individuals to come together to exchange views and broaden their international networks in support of the Palestinian people. Also, the Bureau of the Committee periodically holds consultations with civil society representatives to seek their input and new ideas as to how the Committee’s work could be improved. Moreover, the Committee continues to receive, with high appreciation, valuable analyses, statistics and other important information on the situation on the ground from academic institutes, think tanks and other organizations, which are extremely useful for our activities.

The Committee commends civil society organizations for their efforts to uphold international legitimacy with regard to the question of Palestine through advocacy and the mobilization of public opinion and for their initiatives aimed at alleviating the plight of the Palestinian people. The Committee also encourages civil society organizations to broaden their base, involving trade unions and other large organizations, and to focus and harmonize their advocacy efforts at the local, national, regional and international levels.

I would like to inform you that Phyllis Bennis, a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and Sylvia Tiryaki, Deputy Director of the Global Political Trends Center here at Istanbul Kültür University, will moderate today’s Public Forum. On behalf of the Committee, I would like to thank Ms. Bennis and Dr. Tiryaki for agreeing to that role. I am sure we will have constructive and lively deliberations.

Thank you very much.

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan