Let me begin by extending our sincere thanks and appreciation to the Presidents of the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, Judges Joensen and Meron. Their briefings today, together with the tribunals’ annual reports before us, reflect the tireless efforts of the two tribunals to successfully complete their mandates.
It is our strong conviction that justice is a prerequisite for national reconciliation and lasting peace. As the work of the two tribunals draws to a close, there is no doubt that they have laid a strong foundation for international peace and justice through their development and enforcement of international criminal law.
Last year was marked by the arrests of the remaining fugitives of the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. This was a historic precedent demonstrating that international justice can, indeed, be delivered. At the same time we expressed our grave concern about the relatively high number of outstanding arrest warrants from the Tribunal for Rwanda. This number unfortunately does not seem to have decreased during the reporting period. According to ICTR’s annual report essential cooperation and support of Member States is required in relation to three fugitives that remain to be arrested. However, one should also take into account that six other cases against accused fugitives have been referred to Rwanda during the reporting period. We strongly urge all states, especially the states of the Great Lakes region, to intensify their efforts to help ensure the arrest of the remaining nine fugitives.
Concluding the remaining proceedings against those indicted without delay, while at the same time fully respecting international standards of due process, is a challenge shared by both tribunals. We welcome the measures taken by the tribunals during the reporting period to increase efficiency. We appreciate the fact that the tribunals have made substantial advances towards finalising their trial and appeals work, notwithstanding serious budgetary and staffing constraints. We are all grateful to the staff of the two tribunals for their commitment to the completion of the tribunals’ mandates.
For the tribunals to successfully conclude their mandates, they still depend on the full cooperation of all states, and in particular of the states in the former Yugoslavia and the Great Lake region.
In this regard, we commend the efforts made by Rwanda, with the support of the international donor community, to strengthen its national criminal judicial system. This has allowed for the referral of eight cases from the ICTR to Rwanda for national trials, in connection with the ICTR’s completion strategy. We now trust that Rwanda will put into practice the commitments it has made regarding good faith, capacity and willingness to enforce the highest standards of international justice.
We are also pleased to note that cooperation between the ICTY and the countries in the former Yugoslavia has been good during the reporting period. We are, however, concerned about the information related to political statements that could undermine the reconciliatory effects of the ICTY’s legal and factual findings and the national efforts to prosecute persons charged with war crimes.
The continued fight against impunity for those who committed war crimes during the two conflicts is a common responsibility, and will not end with the closure of the two tribunals. It is therefore important to foster more effective cooperation between states, in particular between the countries of the regions concerned, and to strengthen the capacity of national judicial institutions to effectively handle the many war crimes cases that remain to be prosecuted.
The Arusha Branch of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals has already begun operating, and the Hague Branch will soon be opened. The ICTR has already handed over the files of three high-level fugitives to the Prosecutor of the Mechanism. The establishment of the Mechanism will allow these two pioneering tribunals to close without fear that impunity will prevail. As the mandates of the two ad hoc tribunals draw to a close, the Residual Mechanism will have an important role to play in ensuring the long-term legacy of the tribunals. We are confident that the work of these tribunals will lead the way in the continued fight against impunity.