Impunity Must be Fought at the National Level: Podcast with David Tolbert


If the international community is seriously committed to fighting impunity for mass atrocity, national courts in the countries where such crimes have been committed must be at the frontline. International development actors are crucial to making this possible.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established to prosecute crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes in situations where states are genuinely unable or unwilling to do so. The primary responsibility to prosecute these crimes—according to the Rome Statute which established the ICC in 1998—rests with states, a concept referred to as the complementarity principle.

Under this principle the ICC is a court of last resort, complementing the efforts of national judicial systems. But legal systems facing the task of prosecuting mass violations have often been devastated by the same conflict or period of authoritarian rule that gave rise to such violations in the first place. Some states also have in place legal barriers to ending impunity for these crimes—amnesties, immunities, pardons.

Even when it succeeds in bringing to justice those most responsible, the ICC cannot fill the impunity gap in situations where there are hundreds or thousands of perpetrators. National judicial structures must be afforded the support necessary to enable them to better bear the burden of ending impunity. The successful implementation of complementarity requires the cooperation of both the international justice sector and development actors, those involved in supporting states recovering from conflict and authoritarianism.

Following the first Rome Statute Review Conference held last year in Kampala, ICTJ organized a high-level meeting of international justice actors, development practitioners, and national rule of law actors to foster political support for complementarity and explore how the concept can be implemented.

Recognized as vital step in the process towards putting the concept into practice, ICTJ, together with the United Nations Development Program and with the support from the governments of Denmark and South Africa, is holding a second meeting to continue this conversation on December 8–9 at the Greentree Estate in New York. The objectives of this meeting are to analyze the progress made on complementarity, discuss national judicial capacity-building to make complementarity work in practice, and foster co-ownership and coordination of the process by the development and rule of law sectors.

In this podcast, ICTJ president David Tolbert highlights the importance of discussion and cooperation between the international justice community and development actors in implementing complementarity, the primary purpose of this second Greentree meeting.

“We are trying to get the dialogue started between these two groups,” Tolbert says, “so that when serious crimes are committed, the funding, strategies, expertise goes not just to capacity-building of the general judicial system, but also to ensure that serious crimes are addressed.”

Listen to the Podcast

[Download](/sites/default/files/Tolbert_ICTJ_Podcast_11302011_2.mp3) | Duration: 12:33mins | File size: 7KB

More information on complementarity:

DRC: A woman carrying her child flees violence during the 2006 presidential runoff elections between candidates Jean-Pierre Bemba, on trial before the ICC, and Joseph Kabila.