Security Council Debate: IRMCT

Statement by Karel J.G. van Oosterom,
Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York

New York, 11 December 2018

Thank you very much, Mr. President.

On behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, I would like to express my sincere thanks to the President and Prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Judge Theodor Meron and Mr. Serge Brammertz for their progress reports and their briefings here this morning.

Let me also thank Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Permanent Representative of Peru, for his impeccable leadership of this Council’s Informal Working Group on International Tribunals.

Mr. President, the work of the Mechanism is important to ensure accountability for the most serious crimes under international law. The work of the Mechanism contributes to reconciliation, economic development and peace. Because there cannot be peace without justice.

Mr. President, in this context, I will focus on three challenges the Mechanism is currently facing:

  • Witness protection;
  • Complementarity;
  • Denial of genocide.

1. Witness protection  

My first point: witness protection. Contrary to all expectations, the progress report shows that the workload of the Mechanism is increasing and will continue to increase due to the prosecution of five suspects who have been accused of intimidating protected witnesses.

We strongly condemn any action that puts the safety and security of witnesses and victims at risk. It endangers the legacy of the tribunals and it affects the confidence of witnesses and victims in international criminal justice. Protection of the more than 3000 witnesses is a key residual responsibility of the Mechanism.

Prosecution by the Mechanism should send a strong and clear message that those who attempt to intimidate or to temper with witnesses will be held accountable.

We urge member states in the upcoming budgetary cycle to provide the Mechanism the required resources that reflect the increasing workload of the Mechanism. Only then can the Mechanism fully implement its mandate.

2. Complementarity

Mr. President, my second point: complementarity – or the cooperation between national judicial institutions.

States bear the primary responsibility to end impunity and thoroughly investigate and prosecute those responsible for the most serious crimes under international law.

We note with appreciation that both the Registry and the Office of the Prosecutor continue to assist and support national criminal justice institutions in the Great Lakes region, East Africa and the Western-Balkans. The assistance provided by the Prosecutor enables these national criminal justice institutions to carry out their responsibilities. 

We are, however, concerned about the current situation in the Western-Balkan where regional cooperation is decreasing.

Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina should significantly strengthen their cooperation so that the suspected war criminals who are still at large are brought to justice. This is in the interest of the respective countries as it contributes to reconciliation, regional stability, economic development and sustainable peace.

3. Denial of genocide

Mr. President, this brings me to my third point: the denial of war crimes and the glorification of convicted war criminals.

Last Sunday, the 9th of December, marked the 70th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. While observing this anniversary, we are deeply disturbed that the war crimes and the genocide committed in Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia are being denied and even glorified.

The conclusion that genocide was committed against the Tutsi, has been crucial for re-establishing peace and security in Rwanda and for promoting reconciliation between the affected communities. In that spirit, the General Assembly designated April 7th as the ‘International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda’.

The glorification of war criminals with the consent of, or even organised by, the authorities in the Western-Balkan is disturbing and concerning.

The denial of the Srebrenica genocide by parliamentarians of the Republica Serpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina and by leading politicians in Serbia is reprehensible. It shows a lack of respect for the victims, their relatives and the judgements of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

We firmly reject the ideology of discrimination, division and hate. Especially in societies that have already borne the devastating consequences when hateful words are put into action.

Let me ask a rhetorical question: How can one glorify ethnic cleansing, forcible displacements, destruction of villages and communities, the rape of women and girls, the killing of innocent civilians?

We therefore urge members of the respective Governments:

  1. To set the right example;
  2. To stop public denials and glorification of the atrocities committed; and
  3. To send a clear message to their armed forces that full respect for international humanitarian law is the only way they can truly defend their country with pride and honour.

Conclusion

In conclusion Mr. President. In January, president Theodor Meron steps down as the first President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunal. He leaves behind an exemplary institution that operates as efficient and effective as possible.

There is gender parity amongst the professional staff members; there is a special focal point for gender related issues, and amendments to put conditions on the early release are currently under consideration.

We support the intention of the Mechanism to attach suitable conditions when making decisions on early release. That is of key importance to the families of the victims and to the countries involved.

The Mechanism already achieved much of what the Council envisaged, and is ready to face future challenges.

Finally, Mr. President, allow me to say a few personal words to President Theodor Meron:

In the open debate on Upholding International Law, you shared with us that you were nine years old when your childhood in Poland was violently disrupted by the Second World War. You survived a forced labour camp and you lost almost all of your family members during that War. And again this morning, you shared your life’s history with us as your motivation for your professional legal work. You touched our hearts.

We are deeply impressed how your experiences have motivated you to put your life in service of ending the atrocities of war by virtue of the law. Justice must be done for the victims by holding those accountable who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes under international law. And at the same time, you ensured that those convicted war criminals were treated fairly.

Your contribution to international criminal law has been truly extraordinary and has been indispensable to its development. On behalf of my Government I sincerely thank you for your service, and wish you all the best in your future endeavours. And on a personal note, I hope you’ll write your autobiography. Thank you so much.

Thank you, Mr. President.