In the lead-up to the ICTY’s formal closure at the end of this month, a commemorative event took place yesterday in the Trusteeship Council at United Nations Headquarters in New York, focusing on the Tribunal’s pioneering role as the first international criminal tribunal established by the United Nations. The ICTY Commemoration entitled “Reflections on 24 years of fighting impunity through international courts and tribunals” was co-organised by the Permanent Missions of Italy, The Netherlands and Uruguay. All three Principals of the Tribunal took part in this event.
Following welcoming remarks by H.E. Mr Sebastiano Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, Mr Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, delivered a Keynote Speech reflecting on the role of the United Nations Office for Legal Affairs in the establishment of the Tribunal and drawing the line to other accountability mechanisms today and lessons to be learned from the ICTY experience. Mr de Serpa Soares stressed that the “cooperation between different United Nations organs was instrumental for the establishment and the operation of the Tribunal” and recalled “how a perfectly orchestrated cooperation between the principal organs of the United Nations permitted the establishment of a unique institution, which has been fundamental and instrumental to the development of contemporary international criminal justice.”
The ensuing panel discussion with the three Principals of the Tribunal was moderated by Mr Stephen Mathias, Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, who recalled the beginnings of the ICTY and shared some of his personal memories of this time.
Reflecting on the last months and weeks of the Tribunal’s existence and the history of the Statute of the Tribunal, ICTY President Carmel Agius remarked “the success of an institution is never due only to its founding document and mandate. In reality it is dependent on the work done by the people who breathe life, purpose and meaning into the organisation, the people entrusted to carry out its mission. In order to be able to face the critical challenges I have just described and come up with workable solutions, we have had to rely on the outstanding staff, Judges, and Principals of the Tribunal, to whom I convey my heartfelt thanks and highest respects for their commitment and dedication.”
Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor of the ICTY and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals emphasized that “[T]he completion of the Tribunal’s mandate is not the end of war crimes justice, but the beginning of the next chapter. Further accountability for the crimes now depends fully on national judiciaries in the former Yugoslavia. Thousands of cases remain to be processed, particularly many complex cases against senior- and mid-level suspects in every country. So ultimately, I believe that the ICTY’s legacy is not simply measured by our own work, but by whether the countries of the former Yugoslavia build the rule of law and demonstrate they can secure meaningful justice for the victims of serious crimes during the conflicts.”
As the last speaker on the panel, ICTY Registrar John Hocking stressed that in his view “The ICTY is a success. It has achieved what it was born to do: it prosecuted, with due process, those considered most responsible for the heinous crimes that shocked the Balkans and the world. But the ICTY also achieved much more. The ICTY made justice possible. And in making it possible, even when it seemed impossible, it cemented an irreversible demand for justice. The ICTY has created a world in which we all demand and expect justice. After the ICTY, justice for the worst acts of humankind is no longer a question of ‘if’, it is a question of ‘when’ and ‘how’.”
After the panel discussion, H.E. Mr Elbio Rosselli, Security Council Chair of the Informal Working Group on International Tribunals delivered his remarks on the legacy of the ICTY for future generations. The Moderator then proceeded to open the floor for questions and comments from the audience. The European Union and the United States of America seized the opportunity to express their support for the work accomplished by the Tribunal. The closing remarks were delivered by H.E. Mr Karel van Oosterom, Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the United Nations.
The ICTY Commemoration is one of the remaining legacy events, the other two will be held in The Hague – an academic Symposium on 18 December 2017 and the formal Closing Ceremony of the Tribunal on 21 December 2017. They are the last in a series of legacy and closing events entitled ICTY Legacy Dialogues, aimed at ensuring that the Tribunal’s contribution to accountability for international crimes endures long after its doors will have closed.