Law can be an important guarantor of human security, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda has told a high-level international meeting.
Bensouda told the 52nd Munich Security Conference in Germany that in enhancing human security, ‘the International Criminal Court and domestic judicial mechanisms have important roles to play’ in enhancing accountability for sustainable peace.
“Accountability matters to sustainable peace and stability, and is key to averting the vicious cycle of violence and retribution… The role of justice and accountability as an essential component of promoting human security must be embraced.” The full text of her remarks is reproduced here:
Speech by Fatou Bensouda at the 52nd Munich Security Conference
Allow me to express my sincere appreciation to Ambassador Ischinger, as well as his tireless staff, for their gracious hospitality, and for this unique opportunity to share a few reflections on human security as seen through the lens of international criminal justice.
It is indeed an honour to offer these brief introductory remarks before the illustrious panel composed for this session will engage in rich discussions on this important topic.
Advancements in healthcare and technology have increased our life expectancy, affording humankind the ability to escape a life that is, in Hobbesian parlance, “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Yet this apparent human success-story eclipses a shameful failure to address an indiscernible fact: that, in the ‘modern age’, our new century has already seen countless destabilising conflicts around the world resulting in great losses in both blood and treasure.
Regrettably, each year, countless children, women and men are either affected or fall victim to unimaginable atrocities and extremism.
Grave crimes, such as those reported in Syria and Iraq, and in many other parts of the world, shock our collective conscience, and threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world.
We must curb the destructive impact of conflicts and rising extremism on civilians.
Let me be clear: there is no rationalising mass violence and extremism; no moral imperative – earthly or divine – would licence the commission of atrocities.
On the contrary, humanity’s moral conscience must be outraged by bankrupt ideologies and radicalism, and propelled into action to stop despicable crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.
My thesis is as follows: it is my firm conviction that the law can be an important guarantor of human security.
Certainly, the International Criminal Court and domestic judicial mechanisms have important roles to play in this regard.
Accountability matters to sustainable peace and stability, and is key to averting the vicious cycle of violence and retribution.
The ICC, as you know, has its origins in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the principles established in the ensuing Nuremberg trials, where, individual responsibility for war crimes was reaffirmed.
It was recognised that the horrors witnessed during war and conflict should no longer be tolerated and that the individuals most responsible for such heinous acts, no matter their official status or ranks, must be held accountable.
In this sense, the ICC, as a first permanent independent international criminal court can helpfully curb the ill-conceived practice and destructive effects of war and violence as politics by other means.
Through its work, the ICC can also help ensure a more systematic compliance with humanitarian norms by all actors involved, as well as to serve as a means of protection.
A case in point is my Office’s investigations of attacks against humanitarian aid workers and peacekeepers. These crimes can have a devastating impact on the protection of civilian populations.
We have also ensured the conviction of individuals responsible for recruiting children to take active part in hostilities, and are actively investigating and prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes in various situations, as well as the deliberate attacks against historical monuments and buildings dedicated to religion and culture.
In this work, we are only led by the evidence, the law, and the strategic priorities I have set for my Office.
It is crucial that those involved in warfare have a solid understanding of the legal framework, such as provided by the Rome Statute. Indeed, to a large extent, this framework informs the legality of conduct on the ground.
In these efforts to contribute to human security, my Office is currently conducting preliminary examinations in a number of situations spanning the globe, from Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq to Ukraine, Colombia, and Nigeria with a view to determining whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.
I have on-going investigations in situations in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Darfur/Sudan, Kenya, Libya, Central African Republic, Mali, and most recently with respect to the situation in Georgia.
Atrocity crimes that shock the conscience of humanity must not go unpunished.
Any effort to ensure that justice is served, whether by collection and preservation of evidence, including through modern technologies; and initiatives to establish judicial processes at the national or international level are to be encouraged and intensively pursued by all the relevant actors.
The ICC is only one part of the system of international criminal justice created by the Rome Statute.
As custodians of this system, ICC member States must vigorously and effectively carry out their responsibilities to investigate and prosecute, and thus contribute to the fight against impunity and human security.
At present, the ICC has more than 120 States Parties with the most recent addition being Palestine which joined the Court last year.
Much work still lies ahead, as many countries around the world, indeed many from regional theatres where conflicts are a regular occurrence, as is the Middle East, are yet to join.
Short of universality, the Court’s reach and legal protection will be limited.
This deficit will create an impunity gap, depriving not only recourse to justice for potentially millions of victims around the world, but will also contribute to greater instability and insecurity.
The MENA region in particular is in dire need of effective accountability mechanisms.
The ICC as a fully independent and impartial judicial institution can play a constructive role by acting as a deterrent and holding those responsible for atrocity crimes accountable.
It can encourage the region to move away from hot wars and increasingly lean towards peaceful resolution of conflict to deal with inter and intra-state tensions and conflict.
Taking bold and meaningful action through the vector of the law to protect civilians from the scourge of war and mass violence demonstrates political leadership, not weakness.
The accountability vacuum created in the absence of justice can not only prolong bloodletting, but also the intensity and organisation of mass violence. The net result will be to undermine human security.
What else can be done to advance human security from the scourge of mass violence?
Can the principle of the Responsibility to Protect serve as an additional component of our collective duty to protect civilians?
Both R2P and the Rome Statute underscore the State’s role as the first bulwark of protection of its citizens, and the first line of defence against impunity.
When a state manifestly fails to honour its primary obligation to protect its citizens, the international community should consider taking principled collective action – free from political constraints or calculations – and look at appropriate measures to avert mass atrocities in line with the UN Charter, the Rome Statute and international law more generally.
The role of justice and accountability as an essential component of promoting human security must be embraced.
As ICC-Prosecutor, I’m committed to do my part without fear or favour.
I will conclude by observing that indeed to date, the 21st Century has proven to be a turbulent time. To be sure, challenges standing in the way of realizing human security, in all four corners, are many.
Yet there is cause for optimism.
In historical terms, ours is in fact the age of rights consciousness where humanity no longer accepts that victims of gross human rights violations and atrocity crimes suffer in silence.
And while archaic vices of tribalism, sectarianism and bigotry continue to taint the pages of history, I am confident that universal values of human rights, and calls for ending impunity for mass atrocities, will increasingly define the 21st century.
We must do all we can to ensure that security, stability and the protective embrace of the law become a reality to be relished by all, in all corners of the world. Our responsibilities remain great, but our resolve must endure.
On this path, humanity has come a long way indeed, but ‘we have miles to go still before we sleep.’