Nations must lead and own justice for crimes, atrocities, UNDP chief says

Nov 19, 2012

Through its rule of law and governance work, UNDP builds government capacity to deliver justice and citizens’ capacity to access it, Helen Clark said in The Hague.

The Hague—Justice will be delivered globally only when individual governments themselves shoulder responsibility for dealing with crimes and atrocities, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark said here today.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) “is not by virtue of its mandate able to meet growing expectations for justice everywhere. It is only when national governments take responsibility for dealing with crimes and atrocities that justice can be delivered at the scale required,” she said.

National action is essential to thwart cycles of violence and conflict, and to lay a foundation for reconciliation, peace, and human development.” UNDP “helps strengthen the capacity of governments to deliver justice and the capacities of citizens to access it,” Clark told the 11th Session of Assembly of States Parties to ICC.

Building institutions able to deliver justice is inseparable from development, she said. “This work is particularly important where countries seek to overcome legacies of violence, human rights abuses, and conflict. Countries recovering from massive crimes or atrocities often have large numbers of victims and perpetrators, at the very time when their judicial system may be least capable of delivering.”

The ICC is the first permanent international court set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, came into force on 1 July 2002. The court can try cases involving individuals charged with war crimes committed since July 2002. The Assembly of States Parties, meeting here through 22 November, is taking up a number of issues critical to the Court’s work, including adoption of its budget and election of some officials.

Through its rule of law and governance work, UNDP builds government capacity to deliver justice and citizens’ capacity to access it, Ms. Clark said, adding: “This work is particularly important where countries seek to overcome legacies of violence, human rights abuses, and conflict.”

 “Good justice systems underpin effective governance overall. Where governments are accountable and responsive to the needs and expectations of citizens, then institutions of justice upholding the rule of law are more likely to develop. Good governance and the rule of law are, in turn, critical for sustained human development.”

“Through its experience, including in countries recovering from crisis, UNDP has come to understand that shortcomings in the rule of law underlie the exclusion, suffering, and poverty of many people.”

Where rule of law is firmly in place, all individuals and groups are subject to the law, irrespective of status. Crimes and abuses are punished, and the lives and livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable are protected, enabling them to better plan and forge their own futures.

“At UNDP we see the establishment of the ICC as the culmination of a long historical process towards greater accountability for international crimes, reaching back to the Nuremberg, Tokyo, and other subsequent trials,” Ms. Clark said.

“The combined efforts of these remarkable institutions presiding over these trials have helped raise expectations among the world’s peoples that perpetrators of the most serious international crimes will be held to account, and that their victims will have redress. The UN Secretary-General himself has noted that we live in ‘an age of accountability—in which there is an ever-growing emphasis on the responsibility of States to end impunity and prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other egregious crimes.’

Broad benefits

Justice systems play a crucial role in governance, particularly in the poorest countries, she said.

Rwanda this year marked the 10th anniversary and closure of its traditional courts, known as the gacaca, which UNDP supported. These drew on traditional justice mechanisms to address more than 1 million cases, helping to fill a substantial impunity gap.

UNDP has helped countries elsewhere to realize the potential of traditional or customary justice mechanisms to support accountability for perpetrators and social co-existence and healing.

In the former Yugoslavia, UNDP has found that well-designed support to prosecutions for international crimes can have beneficial effects for development of the overall capacity of the justice system.

In Bosnia, building the capacities of prosecutors’ offices and courts at the canton and district levels to process war crimes cases has been linked to more effective responses to human rights violations overall, strengthening transparency and public outreach.

In Serbia, where the Judicial Training Academy integrated international law in its curriculum and mentoring programs, UNDP observed that more judges applied the same international standards in deciding domestic cases, Ms. Clark said.

Ensuring justice for women victims of serious international crimes is best achieved through the integrated approaches UNDP is advocating. In the Eastern DR Congo, developing capacity to prosecute sexual violence was complemented by efforts to extend legal support to victims, improve case monitoring, and set up mobile courts.

Since 2011, 350 sexual- and gender-based violence cases have been heard through 18 military mobile courts in Eastern Congo, resulting in 193 convictions. This suggests that national prosecutions are viable even in the most challenging of contexts.

Other transitional justice mechanisms can also have such “spillover” effects for development

Following a recommendation of the truth and reconciliation commission established in Peru in 2001, for example, the Office of the Ombudsman launched a campaign to register births and issue identity cards, enabling previously undocumented, mainly poor citizens, to access health care, education, and the protections of the law.

Linking victim-centered reparations, development, and national prosecutions can also have important implications for social equity and justice. In Colombia, UNDP provides capacity support for prosecuting  serious international crimes and reparations for victims, including land restitution.

Such work is consistent with the Rome Statute’s emphasis on victims, and with the Trust Fund established to facilitate reparations for victims.

Coming to terms with a legacy of past crimes is one of the most difficult processes faced by any society. Most societies have in their history experiences of what we would now see as gross human rights violations, Ms. Clark said.

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