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GA/12278
21 October 2020
Seventy-fifth Session, 17th Meeting (PM)

Alarmed by Genocide Denial in Rwanda, Former Yugoslavia, General Assembly Delegates Commend Residual Mechanism for Progress on Cases amid COVID-19

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.

Opening Remarks

CARMEL AGIUS, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, addressing the General Assembly by pre-recorded video, presented the Mechanism’s eighth annual report (document A/75/276).  While the Mechanism was on track to conclude most of its caseload by the end of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed matters.  Still, the Mechanism remained operational throughout and, as the pandemic eased somewhat in mid-year, began taking steps for the safe return of staff and the resumption of in-court proceedings.  Following technical enhancements to the courtroom in The Hague to enable remote participation, the Mechanism heard Ratko Mladić’s appeal of his genocide conviction in August.  “This was a major logistical feat”, with four of the five judges participating by secure video link, he said.  In September, hearings in Prosecutor v. Stanišić & Simatović resumed, with the last witness heard two weeks ago.  Meanwhile, the long-awaited trial in the contempt case of against Maximilien Turinabo and others will start in Arusha on 22 October.

Pointing to other developments, he noted the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 2529 (2020), which reaffirmed the Mechanism’s mandate and extended the term of its Prosecutor for two more years.  The Secretary-General then renewed the President’s own term of office and those on the roster of judges.  He also cited the arrest of Félicien Kabuga in France in May after more than 20 years on the run, adding that a decision is expected soon on his request to be transferred to The Hague rather than to Rwanda.  He praised the 15 Member States that are assisting with the enforcement of sentences, adding that only two convicted individuals currently in United Nations detention facilities — one in Arusha and the other in The Hague — are awaiting transfers.

Returning to the topic of Member States’ cooperation, he echoed the Security Council’s call for them to sustain the momentum and intensify support to achieve the arrest and surrender of remaining fugitives.  Now more than ever before, international criminal justice requires the global community’s attention and unwavering commitment, he said, adding that the Mechanism is the product of multilateralism and a resolute United Nations that had the courage to act when it was needed.  Noting that 2020 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and the Dayton Peace Agreement, he emphasized that the judgements of an international criminal court or tribunal can never heal the deep wounds inflicted by the horrors of war.  It falls on Member States to provide justice at a national level, to reconcile fractured societies and to combat the forces of revisionism.  Nevertheless, international justice mechanisms play a crucial role in ensuring sustainable peace and they will continue to require Member States’ support.

Statements

LUKE ROUGHTON (New Zealand), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, said the Mechanism remains a concrete example of how the international community can use rules-based institutions to achieve accountability for serious international crimes.  While pandemic-related travel bans, remote work arrangements and other measures affected projected timelines for 2020, the Mechanism has been quick to adapt.  Highlighting recent developments, he took note of the death of Augustin Bizimana and of the major breakthrough brought by the arrest of Mr. Kabuga in France.  With two of the three major fugitives indicted by the tribunal now accounted for, he said Mr. Kabuga’s arrest, after nearly 23 years, came following efforts 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 mandate and combat impunity.

SIMONA POPAN, European Union delegation, congratulating the Office of the Prosecutor for accounting for two of the remaining fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said:  “The arrest and upcoming transfer of Mr. Kabuga sends a clear and powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed crimes cannot evade justice.”  Such successful outcomes highlight the importance of cooperation, she pointed out, expressing regret over the lack of it on the part of some Member States.  While the pandemic has led to unavoidable delays, she said ongoing cases must be concluded by the first half of 2021, applauding the Mechanism’s commitment to this goal.  Turning to its legal and regulatory framework, she said the Practice Direction on the Provision of Support and Protection Services to Victims and Witnesses incorporates important gender-sensitive and gender-appropriate approaches, and she applauded other steps being taken to enhance transparency and clarify relevant procedural matters.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States), noting that the Mechanism managed to avoid significant pandemic-related delays, commended a range of developments that have demonstrated its effectiveness, including Mr. Kabuga’s arrest.  The United States continues to offer rewards of up to $5 million for information that leads to the arrest of any of the remaining fugitives.  With regard to ongoing contempt proceedings involving Mr. Turinabo and others, he said attempts to interfere or tamper with witnesses is a serious violation and should be punished accordingly.  He also expressed concern over the Prosecutor’s continuing reports of genocide denial in both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda.

JANA BADE (Germany) said the Mechanism has made remarkable achievements in the common fight against impunity, with the arrest of Mr. Kabuga being an example of what can be achieved when Member States work together.  Noting the commemorations of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica, she said they are powerful reminders of the essential role the Mechanism plays in holding perpetrators accountable and delivering justice to victims.  She urged States, particularly those where fugitives are suspected of being at large, to cooperate fully with the Mechanism in ending impunity.

ROBERT KAYINAMURA (Rwanda), commending the Mechanism for proceeding in a timely manner despite pandemic-related challenges, underlined the need to end impunity.  Indeed, all those responsible must be held accountable, he said, recalling that the General Assembly designated 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.  The arrest of Mr. Kabuga serves as a reminder to all perpetrators that they cannot rely on their profiles — whether high or low — to evade justice, he said, emphasizing that:  “Eventually, they will all be held to justice.”  Unfortunately, the Office of the Prosecutor struggled to obtain the required cooperation from Member States, he said, citing such examples as scant information and assistance provided following requests regarding illegally procured passports obtained by fugitives.  Moreover, Rwanda has received very few responses to requests for cooperation contained in the more than 1,000 perpetrator indictments sent to many countries.  Calling for decisive action against Member States who fail to abide by Security Council resolutions on the arrest of internationally wanted genocide suspects, he said the key obstacle facing the Mechanism remains the continued lack of cooperation to arrest, try or extradite fugitives.  Raising grave concerns about the matter of genocide denial, he said the General Assembly should condemn, in the strongest terms, any efforts to deny or minimize the genocide against the Tutsi people.

CHANAKA WICKREMASINGHE (United Kingdom) said the arrest of Mr. Kabuga demonstrates that international justice can succeed with the support of the global community, even decades later.  However, six fugitives remain at large, he said, calling on Member States to cooperate with the Office of the Prosecutor.  While the Mechanism has worked to build capacity with State prosecutors in the Western Balkans, regional cooperation continues to face impediments and remains problematic.  In that context, he called Member States to honour their commitments to supporting, and removing impediments to, effective regional cooperation in the field of justice, made in the Joint Declaration on War Crimes at the London Summit in 2018.

SANDRA PEJIC-GLYMPH (Serbia) emphasized that Belgrade’s cooperation with the Mechanism has been successful and widely recognized, and that it responds to all its requests for documentation, archives and witnesses.  The conditions under which indicted persons have been released on parole have been honoured in full, and those persons have behaved in line with the Mechanism’s decisions.  Reiterating her delegation’s concern about the Mechanism’s disrespect for the basic human rights of indicted persons, she said there has been no response to Belgrade’s proposal, made in 2009, that convicted Serbian nationals serve their sentences in Serbia.  “We are also concerned over the health of some of the accused or convicted persons and their access to adequate medical care,” she said.

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation), asserting that the Mechanism has inherited the flaws of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, expressed concern that Mr. Mladić is not getting proper medical care, even though his health appears to have significantly deteriorated.  In addition, his relatives have raised concerns and even the judge in his appeal case has called for his swift admission to a hospital.  However, Serbian and Russian doctors, like his relatives and lawyers, cannot gain access to him.  As such, he called on the Mechanism to ensure proper medical assistance for Mr. Mladić and to follow a clear path towards concluding its work.

DIARRA DIME LABILLE (France), reiterating her delegation’s support for the Mechanism, said Mr. Kabuga’s arrest would not have been possible without cooperation between French and international judicial authorities, European police services and Governments.  It marked an important step for Rwandan victims, for national reconciliation after the Tutsi genocide and for international criminal justice.  Deploring the ongoing glorification of war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, which has been openly encouraged in some cases by certain national and local authorities, she said there can be no durable reconciliation without the acknowledgement of crimes and responsibilities.

KINGSTONE ZIYERA (Zimbabwe) regretted to note that the report, while blaming the Zimbabwean authorities for a lack of progress on the investigation, failed to mention the appointment of a new head of the Mechanism’s fugitive tracking section, which gave rise to a new strategy regarding the case of Prosecutor v. Protais Mpiranya, who was indicted by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 2000.  A lack of proper and consistent Mechanism leadership has had a negative impact on the work of the joint task force established to coordinate investigative activities, resulting in the loss of valuable time.  Moreover, the new head of the fugitive tracking section resigned after a short time, he said, adding that the Mechanism has not yet told the Government who is now in charge of investigations.  Zimbabwe takes its international obligations seriously and is committed to cooperating with the Mechanism, he said.

For information media. Not an official record.