Global Policy Forum

Presentation to the Arria Formula Briefing - Justice and the Rule of Law - HRW


Iain Levine, Program Director, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch
September 30, 2004

Relevant Aspects of "Justice and the rule of law: the role of the United Nations," taking into account the Report of the Secretary-General on "The rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies"

Thank you. My name is Iain Levine. I am the Program Director for Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch appreciates the opportunity to speak today in advance of the Open Debate scheduled for October 6 on "Justice and the rule of law: the role of the United Nations," within the context of the August 2004 Report of the Secretary-General on these issues.

Human Rights Watch strongly believes that accountability for atrocities is at the core of laying the foundation for the rule of law and respect for human rights in conflict and post-conflict societies. We have seen time and again how impunity for atrocities committed in the past sends the message that such crimes will be tolerated in the future.

The Secretary-General's report affirms the centrality of justice and the rule of law in promoting immediate and long-term peace in post-conflict societies, and identifies the importance of prosecutions for serious crimes. Human Rights Watch believes that perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted to advance the cause of justice and the rule of law by ensuring that justice is done. Where national courts are unable or unwilling to try these cases, this requires the political will of Security Council members supported by the provision of adequate human and financial resources.

We would like to highlight several of the most important of the Secretary-General's recommendations related to Security Council mandates and resolutions on accountability for past atrocities. Human Rights Watch believes that consistent implementation of these concrete recommendations when the Security Council responds to a new conflict or post-conflict situation would make a vital contribution to strengthening the U.N. response on justice and the rule of law.

First, the Secretary-General recommends that Security Council resolutions and mandates should "give priority attention to…explicitly mandating support for the rule of law and for transitional justice, particularly where United Nations support for judicial and prosecutorial processes is required."


  • While justice for atrocities should be rendered by national courts whenever possible, all too often, they simply do not have the ability or willingness to try these types of cases in conflict and post-conflict situations, as Human Rights Watch research has demonstrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


  • International and hybrid tribunals are by nature imperfect remedies and should be pursued only as a last resort. However, as the Secretary-General observes, the international community plays a crucial role in ensuring accountability when the alternative would be impunity. Human Rights Watch has observed in a report released just two days ago, for example, how the failure to address impunity in Afghanistan is threatening the likelihood of free and fair elections next week.


  • Even with their limitations, the ad hoc international tribunals and hybrid tribunals have had historic achievements by avoiding a massive justice deficit – for example, holding those with greatest responsibility for massacres in Srebrenica and the masterminds of the Rwandan genocide accountable – and establishing rich jurisprudence on international criminal law. They have also improved operations over time, demonstrating the possibility to learn from experience to improve future accountability efforts.


  • At the same time, there is no substitute for a strong national judiciary. Human Rights Watch believes that the complementary relationship between the International Criminal Court and national courts should be utilized to enhance the capacities of national justice systems.

    A second key recommendation is that Security Council resolutions and mandates should ensure that United Nations-sponsored tribunals should include at least partial funding through assessed contributions.


  • Human Rights Watch's research on the Special Court for Sierra Leone underscores that funding a tribunal through voluntary contributions is extremely problematic.

    A third essential recommendation is that Security Council resolutions and mandates should insist upon full governmental cooperation with international and mixed tribunals, including in the surrender of accused persons.


  • We welcome Security Council resolutions calling on member states such as Serbia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to fulfill their legal obligations to cooperate with the ad hoc tribunals by bringing indictees to them, and urge the Security Council to back up these calls with concrete measures that will provide repercussions for failure to cooperate.
A final area of key concern for the Council raised by the Secretary-General is its particular role in relation to the International Criminal Court, because it is empowered to refer situations to the court, including situations in countries that are not ICC states parties. Where national courts cannot or will not address serious crimes, Human Rights Watch firmly believes that the Security Council has a responsibility to utilize this authority to ensure accountability.

We urge you to incorporate the observations, conclusions, and recommendations of the Secretary-General and to seize this opportunity to strengthen the U.N. role in promoting justice and the rule of law in its response to conflict and post-conflict situations.

Thank you.



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