While only representatives of member countries of the United Nations (UN) – and not individual citizens – can make representations, put forth proposals etc. in the UN, at the end of the day every UN representative sitting there is there because ordinary citizens, like you or I, have voted at general elections in the countries we live in. Hence, you and I have an absolute right and responsibility to become involved with the work of the UN, albeit through the will of our parliamentarians.
For some months now, we have been informed that the current President of UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, a citizen of Serbia, is planning on convening a thematic debate in the UN, on 10 April 2013, on the “Role of International Criminal Justice on Reconciliation”. Last week he has published a communiqué on the event (Please click on this link to read the communiqué and details for the debate).
In the Concept Note attached to Jeremic’s communiqué, he states: “we must be vigilant to ensure that international criminal justice serves in the best way its purpose. Operate within a neutral and impartial framework, and achieve its goals in a sustainable manner”.
While I personally believe that such a debate is a positive thing, especially because it seems that it will encompass (if not directly then indirectly) justice delivered through the tribunals regarding all countries that have been involved with UN International Tribunals of some kind, in the period after Nuremberg trials post-WWII (e.g. Cambodia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, Lebanon, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda…), indications are overwhelmingly against objectivity of such a debate if it puts forth at the lectern speakers who are not neutral and impartial in the issue of the debate. Jeremic himself, a citizen of Serbia, speaks of “neutrality and impartiality” and yet he has shown no human decency to distance himself from leading this debate. Furthermore reconciliation and issues around it are set to be a focal point of the debate. Given all this, justice for humanity would tell us that victims of those horrid crimes are the ones who factor most highly in whether justice of the tribunals has or will steer reconciliation, and how.
Hence, as a subscriber to democracy and complete justice I was personally horrified in finding out that this UN debate will be convened, with the opening address delivered by a citizen of one of the countries involved with the very war crimes before the International Criminal Tribunal, Vuk Jeremic from Serbia. My horror had deepened to an even more unimaginable and insufferable level when I read in the media recently (from Serbia) that Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic (who was personally involved in Serbia’s politics of aggression and ethnic cleansing during early 1990’s on the territory of the Former Yugoslavia) is under consideration to deliver a keynote speech at the debate.
My horror does not arise from any strong feelings I may, or may not have regarding the war in Croatia and the fact that the International Criminal Tribunal has already convicted Serbs of joint criminal enterprise against Croatian civilians, people and property. My feelings of horror arise from the fact that, even today, in the 21st century, the UN does not seem capable of organising such an important debate in a completely objective manner, ensuring that any role played during the debate (e.g. keynote speaking, opening statements) does not contaminate the victims’ rights to real and perceived objectivity. Indeed, the only way this can be achieved is to ensure that representatives of the countries where war crimes had occurred do not stand at the lectern and keynote speak to the participants. They can certainly participate in debates, as any other country can.
In my opinion, and I am certain in the opinion of many, the UN should appoint an independent coordinator and group (representatives from countries untainted by the very crimes and justice the debate is addressing) to facilitate and keynote speak for this event.
So, what do we do as citizens of the world? We quick smart write to our Prime Ministers, Presidents …the Opposition Leaders, or our local Member of Parliament or Congressman/Congresswoman… and ask that your country takes up the issue with the UN in ensuring the debate on 10 April 2013 is completely objective and, above all, fair to the multitudes of victims across the world whose wounds would undoubtedly be split wide open the instant a keynote speech or opening addresses are uttered by representatives from “involved-in-crime” countries.
There is no successful or long lasting reconciliation like the one that puts the rights and the feelings of victims up front.
I have personally written to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in Australia such a letter. The more people write the better – wherever you are. So get going please, write your letter. Please contact me if you need to see a sample letter.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover today that Croatian journalist Jadranka Juresko-Kero had written an article about my letter to the Australian Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition and that Vecernji List newspaper has published an article on these efforts of mine to ensure complete respect of victims of war crimes through the UN debate.
It is through such personal actions, by writing to our governments, that we may make a positive and meaningful difference in the lives and rights of victims of war crimes. To evidence this I am at this moment unpleasantly reminded of the Serbian Orthodox New Year concert at the UN General Assembly, beginning of January 2013, when Vuk Jeremic, served upon the UN a diplomatic prank that offended so many victims of the 1990’s war in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The performance in the UN hall of the Serbian song “March on Drina”, which Serb aggressors hummed and chanted and sang as they went about killing innocent people and ethnically cleansing non-Serb population during 1990’s would have remained just a performance for entertainment had groups and organisations representing the victims not reacted immediately. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had no option but to apologise and express regret to the victims.
But the apology and the regret came too late. The victims had already been wounded. Let’s not allow a similar thing happening again at the very altar of human justice and humanity – at the UN, on 10th April.
As far as Croatia’s participation in this debate is concerned, it would seem that there are two main strands of opinion at this stage and in the corridors of political echelons. One strand of thought is that the event be ignored in certain ways and to act, in parallel, with the so-called quiet diplomacy because “the loser has the right to feel angry, nothing else remains for him/her and Croatia has won in the ICTY, Hague”. The other strand of thought is to be “loud”, that is, that Croatia sends an important or high-ranking politician such as the Minister of Justice, of Foreign Affairs or a President’s envoy who would, alongside other representatives of Croatian diplomacy, deliver the message to the UN that Croatia is a country which has cooperated with the work of the International Criminal Tribunal and throughout its court processes and that it has confirmed its innocence as well as the innocence of Croatian Generals, who had endured a very long Hague Calvary.
After the Croatian Generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac returned home to Croatia (16 November 2012) from The Hague, free and acquitted of war crimes including joint criminal enterprise, Vuk Jeremic began “threatening”, from his UN position as President of UN General Assembly, that he was embittered by the ICTY verdict and that he would call for a meeting where “the truth will emerge”. There is no doubt in my mind that with such a style of manipulation Jeremic wanted to send a message to Serbia and to the Serbian diaspora that he has used his influence and position in the UN to initiate a meeting with the “symbolic” date of 10th April. Of course, knowing that 10th April (1941) is the date that signifies the founding of the World War II Independent State of Croatia – there is no doubt that Jeremic has once again “pulled a dirty” on the UN and its member states, just as he did at the Orthodox New Year’s concert.
Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lebanon, Cambodia, Rwanda … all should enter this debate in the UN on equal footing and that can only be achieved that no keynote speakers, no opening or otherwise formally pivotal speakers come from any of these countries.
“The debate will remain as an official documentary record for those who will write the history tomorrow. That is why that debate is important and why it is good that Serbia has found itself at this time in the function of presiding over the General Assembly and, hence, gained an opportunity to reply to that which has de facto been messaged to it by the decisions of the ICTY Appeal Chambers – and that is, that only one guilty side exists, and only one criminal side and that that side is Serbian”, said Vuk Jeremic to journalists in the UN.
Why the UN even permits Jeremic to advocate primarily for his country’s interests at the UN general debate, which will encompass several countries on issues of reconciliation and International Criminal Tribunal justice, is mind-boggling and profoundly distressing.
Surely, there are member states of the UN that can prevent such travesty of UN global interest and role in the issues to be debated! But I honestly believe that the receipt of letters from their own citizens will help further the cause – so, grab your pen, keyboard … write that letter this week! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)