Humanitarian Issues: International justice begins at home

9 November, 2011
Edward Conteh, President of the Amputee and War-Wounded Association, founded in 2000 to represent the most vulnerable victims of the war. Amputees are still waiting for reparations almost 10 years on. Credit: IRIN/Felicity Thompson
Edward Conteh, President of the Amputee and War-Wounded Association, founded in 2000 to represent the most vulnerable victims of the war. Amputees are still waiting for reparations almost 10 years on. Credit: IRIN/Felicity Thompson

Countries need to take more consistent national action against the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, turning to international justice mechanisms only as a last option, policy-makers heard at the International Peace Institute last week.

In a meeting hosted by OCHA and Portugal’s UN mission, ERC Valerie Amos said national justice was crucial to ensure genuine accountability for crimes, and to deter new violations.

While national authorities are the primary bearers of responsibility when it comes to investigating and prosecuting international humanitarian law and human rights violators, governments are conducting far too few prosecutions at the national level, policy-makers emphasized.

“Holding accountable those who commit horrific violations of humanitarian law and human rights – and offering some semblance of justice and redress for their victims - remains the exception rather than the rule,” Ms Amos said.

To date, a lot of focus has been put on international justice, which is only meant to support, rather than replace, national judicial processes.

The UN Security Council has taken some important measures to enhance international accountability, including the referral of situations in Libya and in Darfur, Sudan, to the International Criminal Court.

The Security Council also established International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

But participants said the Security Council needed to do more to help national authorities (and not just national courts) to adopt laws and procedures to take more assertive action at home.

They cited the creation of Sierra Leone’s hybrid tribunal as a valuable precedent – which comprised both national and international staff – as it bolstered the national legal system, and helped bring resolution to local communities.

Policy makers also called for a more consistent approach to fact-finding investigations to better meet victims’ needs for justice. And they called for better reparations for victims - highlighting the work done by commissions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, which dealt with property claims of displaced people and refugees.

Ms Amos said: “It is important that we focus on how to bring about more effective and consistent Council action on accountability, and in doing so ensure that scrutiny and accountability, and crucially justice, become the norm.”