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UN tribunals have lessons to offer on helping States deliver justice, Security Council told

President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Theodor Meron.
UN Photo/Evan Schneider
President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Theodor Meron.

UN tribunals have lessons to offer on helping States deliver justice, Security Council told

As the United Nations tribunals set up in the wake of the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s and the 1994 Rwandan genocide prepare to conclude their work, there are lessons to be learned in terms of building the national capacity of States to deliver justice, officials from the courts told the Security Council today.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the creation by the Council of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was tasked with trying those responsible for the worst war crimes and other breaches of international humanitarian law committed during the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“What the Tribunal has achieved in the course of two decades has been extraordinary,” Judge Theodor Meron, President of the ICTY, said in his briefing to the Council.

He noted that the Tribunal has accounted for all 162 indicted individuals; given rise to an authoritative and extensive body of procedural and substantive law relating to serious international crimes; assisted national judicial systems in conducting their own trials of such crimes; and helped to end impunity, even for national or military leaders.

These accomplishments, he added, are a reflection not just of the hard work and dedication of the Tribunal’s staff and judges, but also of the key assistance provided to the court by the UN and its Member States.

“Without this support, the success of the bold experiment in international justice initiated by this Council in 1993 would never have been possible.”

The Prosecutor for the ICTY, Serge Brammertz, told the Council that it is clear that the future of international justice is, increasingly, national justice. “While international courts will always be needed to provide an accountability safety net, building the capacity of national systems to effectively handle crimes under international law is the linchpin of the justice system.”

In this respect, the former Yugoslavia provides an important precedent, he stated. “There are lessons to learn from the different models and structures adopted by countries of the former Yugoslavia who have assumed responsibility for war crimes cases. And there are also lessons to learn from the process by which the Tribunal has transferred expertise and helped to build capacity nationally. This is an ongoing process.”

Mr. Brammertz added that 20 years after the Tribunal opened its doors, “we are yet to fully deliver on our promise of justice for victims and survivors of atrocities in the former Yugoslavia.”

In December 2010, the Security Council set up the Residual Mechanism to take over and finish the remaining tasks of both the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) once their mandates expire. Both branches of the Mechanism, located in The Hague, are now operational.

“As expected, the imminent closure of the ad hoc tribunals has generated broad interest within the international community on the potential for their practices and other aspects of their legacy to contribute to capacity-building of national and other international tribunals in the prosecution of international crimes,” Justice Hassan B. Jallow, ICTR’s Prosecutor, noted in his briefing.

This “impetus” has encouraged his office to share experience with national and international stakeholders on best practices in the fight against impunity, he added.

The President of the ICTR, Judge Vagn Joensen, outlined various training programmes, workshops and partnerships instituted by the Tribunal over the years on a range of issue to help build capacities and share lessons learned.

“These capacity-building initiatives represent some of the concrete measures that the Tribunal has taken to help to restore peace and reconciliation in the region, and ensure that present and future generations are provided with the necessary tools to continue the fight against impunity long after the Tribunal closes its doors.”