17th Plenary Meeting - General Assembly 75th Session

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21-Oct-2020 01:08:24
Alarmed by genocide denial in Rwanda, Former Yugoslavia, General Assembly delegates commend Residual Mechanism for progress on cases amid COVID-19.

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The President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals appealed to Member States of the General Assembly today for their continued support as it adapts its working methods to COVID‑19 pandemic restrictions while striving to conclude outstanding cases from the conflicts in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as some delegates’ raised concerns about genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals by certain authorities.

Carmel Agius, addressing the Assembly via a pre‑recorded video, presented the eighth annual report of the Mechanism, established in 2010 to conclude the work of the Rwanda and former Yugoslavia tribunals. Emphasizing that the judgements of an international criminal court or tribunal can never heal the deep wounds inflicted by the horrors of war, he said Member States must provide justice at a national level to reconcile fractured societies and to combat the forces of revisionism. However, international justice mechanisms play a crucial role in ensuring sustainable peace and going forward, they will continue to require Member States’ support, he said.

Describing how the Mechanism has adapted to the COVID‑19 pandemic, he said the defence appeal of Ratko Mladić, the former general convicted in 2017 of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was a “major logistical feat”, with four of the five judges participating via video link. In September, hearings in the case of Prosecutor v. Stanišić & Simatović resumed, and on 22 October, a contempt case will begin against individuals including Maximilien Turinabo, arrested in 2018 on charges of attempting to bribe or intimidate witnesses at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Pointing to other developments, he noted the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2529 (2020), which reaffirmed the Mechanism’s mandate and extended by two years the term of its Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz. He also cited the arrest of Félicien Kabuga in France in May, after 20 years of being a fugitive, adding that a decision is expected soon on his request to be transferred to The Hague rather than to Rwanda.

When Member States took the floor, several delegates, including the United States representative, voiced concerns about the Prosecutor’s reports of genocide denial, in both Rwanda and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Deploring the ongoing glorification of war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, France’s representative said there can be no durable reconciliation without the acknowledgement of crimes and responsibilities.

Rwanda’s representative, deeply disturbed by recent reports of genocide denial, said the General Assembly should condemn any efforts to deny or minimize the genocide against the Tutsi people. Expressing regret that the Office of the Prosecutor is struggling to get the required cooperation regarding fugitives travelling on illegally procured passports, he said the Mechanism’s greatest obstacle remains the continued lack of assistance to arrest, try or extradite fugitives.

Serbia’s delegate, citing Belgrade’s widely recognized cooperation with the Mechanism, said the Government will continue to fulfil its obligations. However, she expressed concern over the lack of a response to a request made in 2009 for convicted Serbian nationals to serve their sentences in Serbia, as well as over the health of some of the accused or convicted persons and their access to adequate medical care.

Sharing concerns about the lack of health care for those in custody, the Russian Federation’s representative said the Mechanism has inherited the flaws of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. As such, he called on it to follow a clear path towards concluding its work.

Many representatives voiced their support to help the residual court end impunity. New Zealand’s delegate, speaking also on behalf of Australia and Canada, said the Mechanism is a concrete example of how the international community can use rules‑based institutions to achieve accountability for serious international crimes. Indeed, Mr. Kabuga’s arrest was the product of law enforcement and judicial cooperation in France, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Rwanda, reflecting the importance of working together to allow all international courts to discharge their mandates and combat impunity.

The European Union’s representative, echoing that view, also expressed regret over the lack of cooperation on the part of some Member States in locating and arresting fugitives. While the COVID‑19 pandemic has led to unavoidable delays in the Mechanism’s estimated timetable, she anticipated that ongoing cases must be concluded by the first half of 2021, as expected.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, in the same vein, said that Mr. Mladić is not getting proper medical attention. As such, he called on the Mechanism to ensure proper medical assistance is available and to follow a clear path towards concluding its work.

Representatives of Germany, United Kingdom and Zimbabwe also spoke.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 30 October, to take up the report of the Report of the Human Rights Council.

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