The US Ambassador-at-large for Global Criminal Justice, Stephen J. Rapp, said at an event in Washington that the US will continue to work to keep the Sri Lanka issue alive, with a view to see justice some day.
Rapp was speaking last Thursday at an event organised by the America Bar Association-International Criminal Court Project, the Aspen Institute Justice & Society Program, and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, entitled International Criminal Justice: Mass Atrocities, The International Criminal Court, and the Role of States.
Ambassador Rapp said that in the absence of domestic investigations in Sri Lanka, the United States pushed for two resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council, urging Sri Lanka to investigate violations of international humanitarian law. Noting Sri Lanka’s domestic failure to investigate, the US then pushed for a resolution creating an international investigation under the auspices of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and that this resolution was passed last month.
Ambassador Rapp stated that the resolution authorised the OHCHR to investigate violations of human rights and crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE in 2009 and after. “We hope this will be a game changer,” he said.
Ambassador Rapp also discussed his visit to Sri Lanka in January.
“Demonstrators called me a threat to world peace, and held pictures of me as a devil. But I was greeted warmly elsewhere on the island; particularly by people in the North.”
“There is an expectation that there will be justice, because of all of these international institutions. There’s the work by the UN Human Rights Council, and the documentation report published in February, for the day justice might be possible.”
“Working now in Cambodia, you see justice where people thought it was never possible. 20 years later, there is justice.”
“Now we must investigate and obtain information for the day when justice is possible for Sri Lanka. It’s not a perfect answer now, but it’s a world of states. We will work to keep the issue of Sri Lanka alive and eventually see justice some day.”
Ambassador Rapp stated that people all over the world now have the expectation that if terrible crimes are committed, the perpetrators should be brought to. He stated that the ICC is considered the court of last resort, since it is preferred that a national court addresses any issues of impunity.
“If there is a absence of capacity, the US can assist. If there is an absence of will, the US will try to apply pressure to change this. If can’t surmount these two issues, the ICC stands as the court of last resort. This is all part of sending the message of ‘never again.’ This sends the message that there will be justice. This prevents life from being ‘nasty, brutish and short,’ like Hobbes said.”
The ambassador said that Sri Lanka is not a signatory or state party to the ICC Rome Statute. He said it is generally presumed that if there was an effort to take Sri Lanka to the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC, a very powerful country would veto the referral, speaking about China.
Ambassador Rapp said he cannot guarantee justice in every case, but stated that criminal justice is fundamental to genocide prevention and atrocity prevention. Ambassador Rapp also quoted from Justice Robert Jackson’s address at the Nuremberg trials, in which he stated,
“The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power and make deliberate and concerted use of it to set in motion evils which. leave no home in the world untouched.”
Ambassador Rapp was joined on the event’s first panel by Patricia Wald, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and former Judge at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Judge Wald praised the U.S.’s newly-created Atrocity Prevention Board, which works with the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to stop those who committed the worst crimes from seeking refuge in the U.S.
In discussing the ICC, Judge Wald noted the difficulty of getting defendants in the dock, stating “these are major problems that have to be dealt with.” Judge Wald also noted that the court’s procedures must proceed at a faster, more efficient pace.
The event’s second panel featured Madame Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and the Honorable Richard Goldstone, former Prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
Bensouda identified as a key challenge facing the ICC the need for “tangible and timely cooperation of states. Without that, the court can’t work efficiently and effectively.”
Goldstone said he was hopeful about reports that France may put a referral of Syria to the ICC to vote at the UNSC.
“Russia may veto this, but then let Russia take responsibility for the terrible crimes there,” he said.
He added that now the threat of a veto is paralysing at the UNSC:
“In 9 out of 10 cases, the threat of a veto is the end of the discussion. This has been adopted to prevent the P5 from putting their foreign policy on the record. But put these issues to a vote and see if countries’ bluff will be called. If Russia wants to veto an investigation into what the whole world knows to be terrible crimes, that’s no reason for France or the UK not to bring a resolution.”
Bensouda stated that we must move away from thinking that peace and justice are at odds with each other.
“Peace and justice are mutually reinforcing; they don’t exclude one another,” she said.
“the international community must decide if we are better or worse off with an international system of justice…But it has to be a system. You can’t have a little bit of international justice – you can’t turn it on or off at will.”
Regarding criticism of the ICC as being unfairly focused on Africa, Goldstone said,
“Before Bashir was indicted, there was no criticism of being biased against Africa. It is leaders who are feeling the pinch who are making this argument. Civil society and victims’ organisation especially are all supporting the prosecutions. There is this increasing gap between civil society and leaders. Leaders are protecting themselves, not the interest of their nations.”
Bensouda stated that if the Court was no longer able to hold people at the highest levels of government accountable, this would set back international criminal justice at least 100 years.
“The main reason for the ICC is to hold leaders accountable,” she said.
Jan Jananayagam, director of Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) said,
“It was a pleasure to be invited. I am very encouraged by the passion and commitment with which Ambassador Rapp, the other speakers and many participants from the audience addressed the event, particularly, in highlighting the pressing need for international justice in areas such as the CAR, Syria and Sri Lanka.”