Magazine article Canadian Speeches

All Mass Murders Must Be Prosecuted before World Court

Magazine article Canadian Speeches

All Mass Murders Must Be Prosecuted before World Court

Article excerpt


Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

The prosecution on an irrational basis of some perpetrators of crimes against humanity, while others enjoy impunity, is no longer acceptable. All authors of atrocities must be prosecuted under international law. That is why the ratification of the new International Criminal Court, endorsed by 120 nations at Rome in 1998, is so urgent. Introductory remarks at the launch of the International Criminal Court Coalition's global ratification campaign, The Hague, May 13, 1999.

As we are gathered here this week, as part of this spectacular launch of the campaign for a speedy ratification of the Rome Treaty creating a permanent International Criminal Court, few will fail to reflect on the significance of the armed conflict raging in Kosovo.

I will not prejudge the range of commentary that this unhappy coincidence will provoke. Many will no doubt plead for a speedier ratification process in light of the urgency of addressing the high crime content of modern warfare. I would like to add my voice to the call for an immediate, universal and effective repression of the most serious violations of fundamental international human rights, perpetrated against civilian populations rendered vulnerable by the collusion, the impotence or the indifference of governments.

I will focus, if I may, on three themes that are critical to the adoption of the Rome Treaty: authority, universality, and urgency.


The ICTR and ICTY are powerful judicial institutions. The Prosecutor of the Tribunals is explicitly empowered by the Security Council of the United Nations, through resolutions that all member States have agreed will bind them, to conduct investigations and prosecutions, acting independently and on her own initiative, and in the exercise of that power, to question suspects, victims and witnesses, and to conduct on-site investigations. Furthermore, all States are required, by the same binding Security Council resolutions, to co-operate with the Prosecutor's investigations, and to comply with requests for assistance and court orders.

It is in that empowering environment that I affirmed publicly in March 1998 the jurisdiction of the Tribunal over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed in Kosovo. It is in that same empowering environment that the Security Council in three separate resolutions, on 31 March 1998, 23 September 1998 and on 24 October 1998, supported that position and reaffirmed these obligations to co-operate and assist my work. And it is also in this empowering environment that I, and my investigators, have been systematically denied visas for Kosovo since last fall, and that I was turned down when I presented myself at the border of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia two days after the Racak massacre, to conduct an on-site investigation.

When it comes to the exercise of lawful authoritative powers, empty threats are a grave folly. The political spirit of accommodation and compromise, which is so crucial for the peaceful resolution of all conflicts, is entirely inappropriate when it comes to compliance with the law. It is an affront to those who obey it and a betrayal of those who rely on its protection.

This, in my view, should be the first reminder of what has been activated in Rome last year. It is the promise that something greater than force will govern, something that does not get traded away, something worthy of trust.


Irrationally selective prosecutions undermine the perception of justice as fair and even-handed, and therefore serve as the basis for defiance and contempt. The ad hoc nature of the existing Tribunals is indeed a severe fault line in the aspirations of a universally applicable system of criminal accountability. There is no answer to the complaint of those who have been called to account for their actions that others, even more culpable, were never subjected to scrutiny. …

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