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Introductory Statement by Justice Louise Arbour, Prosecutor ICTY and ICTR at the Launch of the ICC Coalition's Global Ratification Campaign.

Press Release · Communiqué de presse
(Exclusively for the use of the media. Not an official document)

The Hague, 13 May1999






The Hague Appeal for Peace, 13 May 1999

Please find attached the full text of the introductory statement made by Justice Louise Arbour, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (ICTY and ICTR), at the launch of the International Criminal Court Coalition’s global ratification campaign.


As we are gathered here this week, as part of this spectacular launch of the campaign for a speedy ratification of the Rome Treaty creating a permanent International Criminal Court, few will fail to reflect on the significance of the armed conflict raging in Kosovo. I will not prejudge the range of commentary that this unhappy coincidence will provoke. Many will no doubt plead for
a speedier ratification process in light of the urgency of addressing the high crime content of modern warfare. I would like to add my voice to the call for an immediate, universal and effective repression of the most serious violations of fundamental international human rights, perpetrated against civilian populations rendered vulnerable by the collusion, the impotence or the
indifference of governments.

I will focus, if I may, on three themes that are critical to the adoption of the Rome Treaty: authority, universality, and urgency.


The ICTR and ICTY are powerful judicial institutions. The Prosecutor of the Tribunals is explicitly empowered by the Security Council of the United Nations, through resolutions that all member States have agreed will bind them, to conduct investigations and prosecutions, acting independently and on her own initiative, and in the exercise of that power, to question suspects, victims
and witnesses, and to conduct on-site investigations. Furthermore, all States are required, by the same binding Security Council resolutions, to cooperate with the Prosecutor’s investigations, and to comply with requests for assistance and court orders.

It is in that empowering environment that I affirmed publicly in March 1998 the jurisdiction of the Tribunal over alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed in Kosovo. It is in that same empowering environment that the Security Council in three separate resolutions, on 31 March 1998, 23 September 1998 and on 24 October 1998, supported that position and
reaffirmed these obligations to cooperate and assist my work. And it is also in this empowering environment that I, and my investigators, have been systematically denied visas for Kosovo since last fall, and that I was turned down when I presented myself at the border of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia two days after the Racak massacre, to conduct an on-site investigation.

When it comes to the exercise of lawful authoritative powers, empty threats are a grave folly. The political spirit of accommodation and compromise, which is so crucial for the peaceful resolution of all conflicts, is entirely inappropriate when it comes to compliance with the law. It is an affront to those who obey it and a betrayal of those who rely on its protection.

This, in my view, should be the first reminder of what has been activated in Rome last year. It is the promise that something greater than force will govern, something that does not get traded away, something worthy of trust.


Irrationally selective prosecutions undermine the perception of justice as fair and even-handed, and therefore serve as the basis for defiance and contempt. The ad hoc nature of the existing Tribunals is indeed a severe fault line in the aspirations of a universally applicable system of criminal accountability. There is no answer to the complaint of those who have been
called to account for their actions that others, even more culpable, were never subjected to scrutiny. Why Yugoslavia? Why Rwanda? Why the 1990s? Why only 1994? Not that the impunity of some makes others less culpable, but it makes it less just to single them out. It therefore runs the risk of giving credence to their claim of victimisation, and even if it does not cast doubt on the
legitimacy of their punishment, it taints the process that turns a blind eye to the culpability of others.

The broader the reach of the International Criminal Court, the better it will overcome these shortcomings of ad hoc justice. And sad as they are, the recent events in Kosovo have created in my view, an unanswerable precedent in favour of a broad-based application of international humanitarian law, enforceable before an international forum. On 24 March 1999, 19 European and
north American countries have said with their deeds what some of them were reluctant to say with words. They have voluntarily submitted themselves to the jurisdiction of a pre-existing International Tribunal, whose mandate applies to the theatre of their chosen military operations, whose reach is unqualified by nationality, whose investigations are triggered at the sole discretion of
the Prosecutor and who has primacy over national courts.

Politicians are often the first to recognize that more is conveyed by deeds than by rhetoric. I would have thought that the 19 countries of NATO should be able to ratify a Treaty under which they would have considerably less exposure to scrutiny, let alone prosecution, than they have before ICTY.

Having said that, I am obviously not commenting on any allegations of violations of international humanitarian law supposedly perpetrated by nationals of NATO countries. I accept the assurances given by NATO leaders that they intend to conduct their operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in full compliance with international humanitarian law. I have reminded many of them,
when the occasion presented itself, of their obligation to conduct fair and open-minded investigations of any possible deviance from that policy, and of the obligation of commanders to prevent and punish, if required.

At the time of the Rome Diplomatic Conference, issues had been raised about the risk, unacceptable to many in the military establishment, of submitting to the judgement of others the complex, and sometimes unclear boundaries between justifiable military targets and possible civilian casualties, and the even more problematic appreciation of the issue of tolerable proportionality
between military advantage and foreseeable civilian cost.

By engaging in military operations in Kosovo under the jurisdictional competence of ICTY, NATO leaders have affirmed their confidence in an international forum that, even in its short history, has demonstrated its competence, its integrity, and its transparency. It is, in my

opinion, the greatest gesture of confidence in international criminal justice, and it fares well for the launch of a ratification campaign for an institution that will be considerable less intrusive than the ad hoc tribunals, but that, if well-staffed and well-run, should enjoy the same credibility.


The willingness to submit to impartial, unbiased scrutiny, is not only the trademark of law-abiding persons and institutions, but it is in my view a prerequisite of their moral entitlement to calling others to account. The 120 countries that signed the text of the Rome Treaty recognized that we live in a world where warfare inflicts unspeakable harm to many, whether through
medieval-style hand combat with agricultural implements, cheap land-mines or high-tech precision instruments that still sometimes fail.

There is a fin de siecle urgency to this endeavour. International criminal justice has become an inseparable component of the international efforts to make and keep peace and security. Human security depends on a system which allows for international judicial intervention. World order without human security is an abstraction. Our ruling generation holds in trust the
enforcement of the rules of governance. If we are to embark in wars of values, it is worth fighting for international justice. Authoritative, universal justice.