Can We Prevent Crimes against Humanity?

By Jacot, Martine | UNESCO Courier, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Can We Prevent Crimes against Humanity?


Jacot, Martine, UNESCO Courier


Canadian judge Louise Arbour, former chief prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunals (ICT) for ex- Yugoslavia and Rwanda, believes international law is making great strides in violence prevention

How has setting up ICTs helped the groups of people directly concerned to turn the page on atrocities they have experienced?

These tribunals have been a spectacular innovation. For the first time, the international community has shown its concern not only with the short term-- stopping armed conflict--but also with the long term. It has noted that in the Balkans and Africa's Great Lakes region there was very little hope of achieving lasting peace based on reconciliation and social reconstruction unless the truth about past events was established. The recording by international investigators of irrefutable evidence of crimes prevents history from being falsified and the past from being distorted.

When the truth is told, the need to dispense justice becomes obvious. It's very important to pin criminal responsibility for any crimes that have been committed not only on those who actually committed them but also on political and military leaders. In so doing, the law at least recognizes that the victims have a legal status and to some extent restores their dignity. It also stops them from setting themselves on a course for revenge, an agenda which can be handed down from generation to generation.

Do you feel the ICT for the former Yugoslavia has helped victims to come to terms with the burden of memory, a process which is crucial to reconciliation? In Bosnia, there's a kind of "apartheid" between communities.

The ICT has not yet contributed to reconciliation in Bosnia because it has not been given the necessary resources. Justice cannot be fully done partly because of the refusal of some governments to gather evidence and arrest people who've already been indicted.

The existence of an ICT for the former Yugoslavia doesn't seem to have prevented the events in Kosovo.

The ICT did not have an immediate deterrent effect because the UN Security Council didn't use its resources to oblige Serbia (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) to carry out the arrest warrants the ICT had issued, This encouraged the criminals to feel that in practical terms they were going to enjoy impunity and immunity. …

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