Serious War Crimes Should Be Dealt with by Permanent International Criminal Court, Says Justice Richard Goldstone

UN Chronicle, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Serious War Crimes Should Be Dealt with by Permanent International Criminal Court, Says Justice Richard Goldstone


Q: The concept of an international criminal court for crimes against humanity, initially tested after the Second World War with the Nuremberg and Tokyo War Crimes Tribunals, has been recently revived with regard to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. How effective do you think the whole idea is?

A: The experience of the two ad hoc tribunals is very relevant. And we all in The Hague and Kigali, in doing work for our tribunals and in judging how effective an international criminal court can be, feel that additional responsibility. But my own strong view is that the only sensible way to go is to have a permanent international criminal court, specifically and primarily to deal with war crimes, serious war crimes. Because if there is any way to begin to stop the commission of war crimes, which has been, unfortunately, more widespread since the Second World War than before it, then this is it. If there is no enforcement of international humanitarian law, people are going to ignore it. If any laws are not enforced, you might as well not have them. Another reason is that it is not satisfactory to have ad hoc courts. It's not fair to have a political body like the Security Council deciding in Yugoslavia we are going to enforce it, in Rwanda we are going to enforce it. What about other countries where there is similar contravention? And this is one of the main objections raised by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with which I agree. It's a form of discrimination to decide that these international laws can only be applied in some countries and some areas, and not others.

Q: So, in the case of the former Yugoslavia, how effective is the tribunal, since so many people were indicted and quite a few of them arrested and actually put before the court?

A: It's a good week to answer this question, because our prison is going to be filling up in The Hague. Three arrests are placed this week, and we expect more next week. We've already got three people in The Hague, so we are soon going to have at least seven or eight people standing trial there. But since. Dayton, really, we are on a different threshold--a higher threshold of relevance and acceptance by the international community, by Governments, by the media and are now being taken seriously. I also have no doubt that if the Bosnian Serb leaders had not been indicted and if Mr. Karadzic and General Mladic were at the table, there would have been no Dayton agreement.

Q: But what are the prospects for the Bosnian Serb leaders to be arrested and put on trial?

A: It's more guess work, like looking into a crystal ball. All I can say is that prospects now are better than they ever have been. Because the more the international community puts them aside as pariahs, the more likely it is that they will be handed over, because they will become more of an embarrassment to their own people. No people in the modern world can afford to have leaders indicted as war criminals. Rightly, whether they are guilty or innocent, it's for the court to decide. But as long as they are under suspicion, under indictment, and recognizing that there is the presumption of innocence, I don't see how they can effectively lead any people.

Q: You have partly anticipated our next question regarding the determination of guilt. The Bosnian Serbs, their press and leaders claim they were actually defending their territory.

A: You know, for the crimes that we've charged, that's not a defence. You can't rape women and murder people in selfdefence, it's a contradiction in terms. You can't bus people out of Srebrenica and murder them in self-defence, it's just nonsense!

Q: Could you tell us, what is roughly the balance, in percentage terms, of crimes committed by Serbs, Croats and Muslims throughout the war?

A: You know, I really can't comment. We don't have all the facts. It's not a judgement, we don't weigh these things nicely and smoothly, it's not relevant in trial. …

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Serious War Crimes Should Be Dealt with by Permanent International Criminal Court, Says Justice Richard Goldstone
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