Today the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect celebrates the World Day for International Justice. On this day we commend the commitment of various states, regional bodies and multilateral institutions to uphold their responsibility to protect by pursuing justice for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Despite the manifest failure of the UN Security Council to take timely and decisive action to stop the genocide against the Rohingya population in Myanmar, over the last year we have begun to see progress towards holding the perpetrators accountable. On 27 September 2018 the Human Rights Council (HRC) established an Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. On 6 September 2018 a Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) also decided that the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, paving the way for the Chief Prosecutor to formally request authorization for an investigation. These actions required creativity and determination on behalf of the HRC and the ICC Chief Prosecutor to undermine the impunity upon which the perpetrators depend.
During May 2019 the Foreign Minister of The Gambia, Dr. Mamadou Tangara, also made history when he announced his country’s intention to take Myanmar to the International Court of Justice for its failure to uphold its obligations under the Genocide Convention. The decision was taken in line with a resolution by the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Similarly, during September 2018 Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru became the first governments to request an ICC investigation into potential crimes that took place on the territory of another country when they referred the situation in Venezuela to the Court.
Several countries – most notably Sweden, France, Germany and The Netherlands – have also begun to hold perpetrators accountable for atrocities committed in Syria. Over the last year these states have utilized the concept of universal jurisdiction, whereby perpetrators of grave international crimes can be prosecuted domestically irrespective the citizenship of perpetrators or victims, or where their crimes were committed.
This year we also celebrate those survivors who have succeeded in their pursuit of justice. During November 2018 the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia ruled for the first time that the former Khmer Rouge government committed genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim Cham minorities, convicting two surviving senior leaders for atrocities committed in Cambodia 30 years ago. And last week the ICC found Bosco Ntaganda guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) Ituri Province in 2002-2003. The long-awaited judgement is an important victory for all victims of murder, rape, sexual violence and child recruitment in the DRC.
From Nuremburg to today, the struggle for international justice has always required legal innovation and political courage. But despite positive action over the past year, Yazidi and Rohingya survivors of genocide, as well as vulnerable civilians facing ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and elsewhere, are still waiting for their day in court. On this day we reiterate our commitment to ensuring that all victims and survivors of mass atrocity crimes receive the recognition and justice they deserve.
Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue, Suite 5203
New York, NY 10016-4309, USA