Adjournment Debate. - War Crimes Tribunal.

Thursday, 12 December 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 472 No. 8

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Ms F. Fitzgerald: Information on Frances Fitzgerald  Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald  There is overwhelming evidence that the work of the International War Crimes Tribunal is in serious crisis because of the non-enforcement of its orders by State authorities to arrest indicted war criminals. The tribunal's president, Cassese, and the former Judge Goldstone warned that if those indicted for war crimes are not arrested they could not do the job they were appointed to do. If they cannot do the job they have been appointed to do, what is the point in the tribunal continuing?

It is obscene that the war criminals are still free. It is devastating for the victims of these appalling crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to see those who committed them walk free. It is depressing and dangerous. The international community is being challenged to take effective action and we must continue to raise our voice in this regard. Members of the UN Security Council and France, Britain and America, must take decisive action and not let commercial arms or other interests make the tribunals ineffective. This is an appalling precedent to set.

In the days of instant media coverage, to see war criminals walking with impunity past international police forces and the UN makes a mockery of our efforts to secure international justice. If the international community does not bring war criminals to justice now — they may never be in a better position to do so — we will send out a message that there is no justice and that we are prepared to compromise other human beings, using humanitarian aid to solve our collective conscience.

The credibility of the international community is at stake in the way we handle these tribunals. There is a real danger that the victims who have been terribly affected by the appalling crimes will end up seeking vengeance and a new war could erupt. The crimes committed were horrendous and many thousands of women, as well as men, were affected. They are victims of a conflict which they neither initiated nor directed. I hope we can use the end of the Irish Presidency of the EU to press for justice for the women who were raped during the atrocities in Bosnia. I congratulate the Department of Foreign Affairs [1699] which has shown commitment in a practical way by funding the training of counsellors to set up a centre in Bosnia.

When the international crime tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established in response to the enormity of the human rights violations in the region, its stated aim was to put an end to such crimes and to bring to justice the persons responsible. For the first time rape was to be prosecuted as a war crime. It is appalling that there has been little or no progress in prosecuting those who raped women in the former Yugoslavia. There is inadequate protection for women witnesses, we need to set up legal centres for those women. The anonymity of witnesses is not guaranteed. Women are fearful for themselves and their families. I hope we can lead in ensuring the advancement of an awareness and the protection of fundamental human rights for women worldwide.

During the conflict in Yugoslavia thousands of women were raped by soldiers. The commission of experts established by the UN Security Council to investigate these allegations found that rape and the detention of women occurred on a massive scale, that it was organised and systematic and used as an instrument of war. Rape camps were established. After two years, we must ask why so few people have been arrested and tried. What is preventing those 60 or more indicted war criminals in the former Yugoslavia from being arrested? The international community is seriously failing in its duty to protect the victims of the conflicts in Rwanda and Yugoslavia and confidence in international human rights is being eroded.

Surely arresting war criminals is the cornerstone of a successful policy in this area. We advocated setting up the war crimes tribunal. What can we do now to make sure it is effective? Should economic sanctions be imposed? Why are France and Belgium harbouring known war criminals? For many people the tribunals are their only hope of justice and they must be seen to be effective. Otherwise the atrocities being committed by extremist paramilitary groups will be validated.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Ms Burton): Information on Joan Burton  Zoom on Joan Burton  The matter raised by the Deputy is serious. The sad reality is that fewer than 21 people in Rwanda have been indicted and warrants issued for their arrest. Requests have been sent to national courts in Belgium, Cameroon and Switzerland to bring indicated persons before them.

The greatest shortcoming of the UN and the international system has been the failure of the war crimes tribunal process to deliver justice. It may be delivering law but it has little to do with justice. In Rwanda the court process has been exceptionally slow. There have been complaints about the condition of the building, the roof leaking and so on, to deflect the court from [1700] dealing with the matters before it. There have been approximately 74 indictments in Yugoslavia. Seven people have been arrested, one has been convicted and another man's trial recently concluded.

We have supported the war crimes tribunal by providing monetary and other supports and we will continue to do this. However, I question whether this mechanism will deliver the type of mass justice that major disasters such as the genocide in Rwanda or the killing in the former Yugoslavia require. While we will continue to support the tribunals, I am rather cynical about their ability to deliver mass justice.

The question of local justice versus the international tribunals is a difficult matter. There are 90,000 people held in severely overcrowded jails in Rwanda who will be tried under its local system. Unless money is provided for local systems of justice, relatively small numbers of people will be indicted at international tribunal level while hundreds of thousands of other dreadful crimes will go, not only unpunished, but untried. This is also true in the case of the former Yugoslavia. When I met the lawyers working with the women in the former Yugoslavia last week I asked them how, in their opinion, women parliamentarians, in particular, could address in a realistic manner the demands for justice by women who have been raped or whose partners or children have been killed.

One of the ways of doing it is by a permanent international criminal court but another way is by addressing the questions of justice at a local level and perhaps using the forms which have been used in South Africa, such as the truth commission which would encourage people to come forward and confess. This would not necessarily involve the kind of very detailed system on a mass scale to which the war crimes tribunals give rise at present which inevitably mean that only a tiny fraction of the people who have been involved in war crimes can be tried.

The other matter which must be addressed by the international community is, unfortunately, that there are people committing war crimes in eastern Zaire and parts of the former Soviet Union. They can continue to do so with impunity because they have no sense that there is an international or local justice system which will subsequently call them to account in a rapid and effective manner for what they have done.

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