Archived February 09, 2015 - March 12, 2015

Is the International Community Abandoning the Fight Against Impunity?

In recent years the world has seen no respite in conflict where civilians are being particularly targeted with increased brutality. Reports of the devastation wrought by conflict and terror seem to overtake one another with civilian casualties soaring in Syria, Central African Republic, Gaza, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Sudan, Ukraine, and more.

Especially worrying is that, increasingly, impunity reigns for the perpetrators of these atrocities, and political will and cooperation in upholding the interests of justice seem to have faltered: African governments have vowed to shield sitting heads of state from judicial oversight, and in Guatemala, despite huge efforts by victims and civil society, political forces continue to derail the trial of a former dictator accused of genocide. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council failed to refer the violence in Syria to the ICC, and the ICC Chief Prosecutor, citing a UN Security Council stalemate that can “only embolden perpetrators”, announced the suspension of the Court’s investigation of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

These developments have recently prompted ICTJ President David Tolbert to sound a warning that the international community is backsliding on its obligations to protect human rights. To continue this conversation, in this ICTJ Online Debate we ask: Is the international community abandoning the fight against impunity?

A Debate Whose Time Has Come
David Tolbert
President, International Center for Transitional Justice

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and more than a decade after the establishment of the International Criminal Court, shockingly little is being done to stop massive human rights abuses. The prospects of victims receiving justice, let alone bringing perpetrators to account, seems ever more remote.

In recent days, we have witnessed horrific atrocities by Boko Haram, with only a limited response by the international community. The bloody handiwork of ISIL is grabbing headlines, and there seems to be no coherent strategy to address its barbarity. In Syria conflict rages, with untold civilian casualties as a divided UN Security Council sits on the sidelines. Gaza is struggling to recover after its umpteenth destruction. Eastern Ukraine is rocked by daily attacks on civilian targets, and very few seem to remember the downing of a civilian airplane there, in which 295 people died. This somber list could go on and on.

Michael Ignatieff
Professor and Human Rights Scholar

When the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court dropped charges against the President of Kenya in December 2014, she said it was a “dark day for international criminal justice.” It was more than that. It signaled a clear retreat in the fight against impunity, at least as it relates to heads of state.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

All the fights worth fighting involve long-term struggles, hard work and many forces at play. The fights against apartheid, slavery, and colonialism have been fought over the long term, with battles both won and lost. They involve the employment of a variety of methods in order to advance a cause. So it goes with the fight against impunity.

Betty Murungi
Former Commissioner, Kenya TJRC

Fighting impunity is not just about the effectiveness of the ICC or the politics of the UNSC. More important, it is about the value nations place on the lives of their citizens, it is about building and supporting national judicial mechanisms with resources to respond to violations as they occur. In sum, I suggest we go beyond the idea that the international community owes the world a duty to fight impunity and consider that the real responsibility lies with individual states and citizens. How can we use the most innovative aspects of the Rome Statute pertaining to victim participation and protection at the national level?

Aryeh Neier
President Emeritus, Open Society Foundations

Perhaps a way to consider measures that might be taken to extend the reach and to enhance the effectiveness of international justice would be for governments that are supportive to convene a global gathering for this purpose like the one that took place in Rome in 1998. By not leaving such an effort to the United Nations, they would avoid subjection to the veto power by the permanent members of the Security Council. That was a critical factor in the success of the Rome Conference where only two of the permanent five supported establishment of the ICC. If such a meeting were to be scheduled about the time of the twentieth anniversary of the meeting in Rome, there would be adequate time to develop proposals and to subject them to scrutiny and debate at regional meetings that could be held in advance.

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