Reconciliation equals peace. There can be no doubt that achieving reconciliation and peace requires, among other things, a great deal of diplomacy, political maneuvering, goodwill from the people, wound healing, conflict resolution and compromise; they are achieved (or not) by the people and their representatives.
Criminal justice, on the other hand, is achieved via non-political, non-diplomatic, non-goodwill, non-manoeuvring, non-compromise – it’s pure evidence presented in courts and what it actually proves beyond any reasonable doubt that defines the path to justice done and justice seen to be done. The interpretation of evidence in criminal justice can differ between judges, but, at the end of the day, any such interpretation (majority decision) requires reasoning and corroboration that would lead any other reasonable person to make similar conclusions. Hence it cannot be political; it must not be political.
The thematic debate on the “role of international criminal justice on reconciliation” organised by Vuk Jeremic, president of UN General Assembly, to be held on 10 April 2013 has gathered a significant momentum of concern worldwide. I too, have been concerned by the likelihood that, given Jeremic’s pursuits in attempting to “improve” Serbia’s profile and restore Serbia’s prestige when it comes to the 1990’s war of Serb aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the debate – meant for addressing war crimes/justice that had affected several countries since WWII (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Cambodia, Lebanon, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Rwanda …) – will turn into a political platform for Serbia’s politics and fail to objectively address issues of reconciliation in all the countries, for victims of war crimes from several countries equally.
All Jeremic’s public statements regarding the ICTY during past several months have made it clear that this thematic debate will be indelibly linked to the work of international criminal tribunals, who actually deal with criminal justice as per individual cases and not the politics or needs of national reconciliation, or even peace.
The international criminal courts are independent and judicial institutions that should not be and cannot be concerned with reconciliation or peace. If they were, then that would mean that court decisions would be significantly coloured by other than evidential factors.
In February 2013 I wrote to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, seeking Australia’s intervention at the UN with view to ensuring that the “Jeremic” UNGA debate on 10 April does not end up bringing politics into criminal justice, does not end up being facilitated in a biased manner where all States concerned would not receive an equal chance to present their issues and views; does not end up as a platform for the promotion of Serbia’s politics and criminal justice politicised.
A couple of days ago I received a reply to my letter:
“Dear Ms Vukic, Thank you for your letter dated 18 February 2013 in relation to the upcoming debate on the ‘role of international criminal justice in reconciliation’ in the United Nations General
Assembly. I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Prime Minister.
As a strong supporter of international criminal justice, the Australian Government agrees that
it is imperative that this debate, scheduled to take place on 10 April 2013, is balanced. While
it is important that all States have an opportunity to present their views in such debates,
including those that have first-hand experience of serious international crimes, the Australian
Government agrees that it would not be appropriate for the debate to reflect any particular
geopolitical agenda. To this end, Australia has been working in consultation with other States
to seek to ensure that the debate is not politicized”. (Translation of reply into Croatian)
It is so reassuring to know that we do, despite a great deal of political maneuvering, live in a democratic world where criminal justice is afforded a politically-free zone even though the efforts to keep justice clear of politics and diplomacy may indeed prove most challenging.
If we are to judge from the developments on the international scene of recent, Jeremic is facing a backlash from governments and international jurists who feel he has abused his position to advance his narrow national interests.
In recent days, several international legal experts, including Song Sang-Hyun, the president of the International Criminal Court, who had confirmed their attendance at the conference have pulled out of the event. Indeed the ICTY in all its three Tribunals on criminal justice have stated they would not be attending the “Jeremic” debate.
Among those who has have, to my knowledge, cancelled or declined invitations include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the UN secretary general’s special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the UN secretary general lawyer Patricia O’Brien, Foreign Policy pointed out.
“Jordan will boycott a controversial U.N. session on international criminal justice and reconciliation, because of concerns that the Serbian president of the General Assembly will use the event to marshal unfair criticism of the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Jordan’s ambassador to the U.N., Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, outlined his intention in a meeting with Arab ambassadors last week and will raise it on Friday with representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He also blocked a move by the Non-Aligned movement, a bloc of 120 developing countries, to issue a statement in support of the April 10 meeting.
‘The president of the General Assembly has done little to conceal his motives regarding the thematic debate on the 10th of April, which has prompted many of the more notable early participants to withdraw,” Zeid told Turtle Bay. “They are not fooled. I was in the former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996 and, in view of what I know to be true, will also, together with my delegation, be nowhere near the event. We will encourage other delegations in the coming days to do likewise.”
Furthermore, “I will neither speak nor attend the debate at the UN General Assembly,” Ivo Josipovic, Croatian President told Belgrade daily Vecernje novosti, 29 March 2013.
It would be a perfect day on ‘East River’ on 10 April 2013 if non-attendance by States is significant, if Jeremic steps down from facilitating the debate and hands the task to an independent person, if someone stands up and says: keep politics out of criminal justice, victims of war crimes are not fodder for reconciliation – they want only pure justice, roll your sleeves up and do some hard yards among the people to achieve reconciliation. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)