Ban Ki-moon: Tribunals key for reconciliation

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in New York on Wednesday that reconciliation is one of the great essentials in the work for post-crisis healing.

Source: Tanjug
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The work of criminal tribunals is of key importance for the process, he added.

At the beginning of the public debate on the work of international criminal tribunals and their role in reconciliation, Ban said in the UN seat that supporting the tribunals and courts means respecting - and not calling into question - their independence, impartiality and integrity, and it also means implementing their decisions.

It means safeguarding them from those who seek to undermine them for reasons that may have more to do with politics than justice, Ban said.

He noted that the growing reach of international criminal justice is a hopeful trend for upholding our common humanity, which is why he is strongly committed to providing the support these courts and tribunals need to succeed, now and in the future.

This is why reconciliation is one of most elusive prerequisites for post-conflict recovery, as it can be difficult to know just when a society has sufficiently looked at the roots of conflict and addressed the peoples' grievances, the UN secretary general said.

“All too often, even though fighting has stopped, and even after considerable time and effort, feelings can still be raw, and tensions can still erupt at seemingly slight provocation,” Ban said.

This is why the advance of international criminal justice is arguably the most positive development in international relations of the past generation, Ban said.

“Two decades ago, almost fifty years after the Nuremberg trials - and in the face of horrendous acts that at times summoned up those very ghosts - the international community established the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The world was determined to ensure accountability for the crimes perpetrated during those conflicts,” the UN secretary general said.

“Since those initial milestones, we have seen similarly pioneering additions to the judicial landscape, including the International Criminal Court, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon,” Ban noted.

“Impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other serious international crimes is no longer acceptable, nor is it tolerated,” Ban said and added that “those who stoke the flames of hatred and division - whether head of state, head of militia, individual soldier or individual citizen - have increasingly few places to hide.”

“The system of international criminal justice has also given voice to victims and witnesses,” Ban said. Nevertheless, justice is not only a matter of punishing the perpetrators, he added.

“History has shown that long-term peace and stability requires the acknowledgement of past wrongs,” Ban said.

“For post-conflict societies traumatized by death and destruction, accountability can help prevent any recurrence. The Security Council emphasized precisely this in establishing the ICTY, the ICTR and the Special Court for Sierra Leone,” he noted.

Ban also stated that just two days ago, he met in The Hague with the presidents of the international courts and tribunals and thanked them for their work.

"True reconciliation by honoring victims"

UN General Assembly President Vuk Jeremić on Wednesday opened a public debate on the work of international criminal tribunals at the UN headquarters, saying "the paramount question is how international criminal justice can help reconcile former adversaries in post-conflict, transitioning societies."

Two decades after the establishment of the inaugural UN ad hoc tribunal, and eleven years following the entry into force of the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, we are finally holding our first thematic debate on international criminal justice, he said.

The number and diversity of countries that will participate in today's proceedings demonstrates how widespread is the interest in this topic, and how enormous its significance for the international community, he said, noting that it is also an immensely sensitive issue, for discussions about international criminal justice often involve considerations of delicate matters like sovereignty or impartiality.

"But I firmly believe there should be no forbidden subjects in the General Assembly. Where else can all Member States come together, as equals, to exchange views frankly, openly, and inclusively on far-reaching issues," Jeremić said.

In international criminal justice, there is quite an accumulated wealth of experience that can be appraised, and the historical record reveals numerous lessons that may be learned or best practices to be applied in the future, he said.

They are also debating issues such as prosecutorial discretion, the legal criteria by which judgments are rendered, and the selection process of court officials and staff - as well as the question of jurisdictional primacy and how it has evolved over time, said Jeremić, adding that others include how to balance the delivery of justice, the prevention of impunity and fostering general deterrence, and the respect for the rights of both victims and the accused.

"In my view, the paramount question is how international criminal justice can help reconcile former adversaries in post-conflict, transitioning societies," said Jeremić.

According to Jeremić, efforts to achieve justice and reconciliation should reinforce each other, and be bound together in what they aim to accomplish - to put an end to enmity, thus breaking for good the vicious cycle of hatred.

International criminal justice can easily be perceived as an instrument of revendication, or be portrayed as complicit with attempts to assign communal blame, but such outcomes would harm efforts to strengthen the rule of law, for no legal tradition recognizes the guilt or innocence of an entire nation, he said.

"Reconciliation will come about when all the parties to a conflict are ready to speak the truth to each other. Honoring all the victims is at the heart of this endeavor. That is why it is so critically important to ensure atrocities are neither denied, nor bizarrely celebrated as national triumphs," said Jeremić.

"Reconciliation is in its essence about the future, about making sure we do not allow yesterday's tragedies to circumscribe our ability to reach out to each other, and work together for a better, more inclusive tomorrow," he said.

Jeremić expressed hope the thematic debate will be about the future as well, appealing to participants to see international criminal justice not only for what it is, but also for what it could become.

Let us therefore seek to improve its effectiveness and also be reminded of the possible dangers posed by its absence, he said.

Jeremić recalled it was Aristotle who wrote that "at his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst."

"May we fervently strive to build a world in which no man or nation is separated from the ennobling reign of law and justice, where truth and reconciliation will be imparted with much-deserved preeminence," Jeremić entreated.

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