Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good evening. On behalf of the MacArthur Foundation I want to welcome you to the Consultative Conference on International Criminal Justice. The Foundation is proud to have provided grants in support of this meeting, which we see as an historic gathering with tremendous potential for strengthening international justice.

At the outset I want to give special recognition to the Consultative Conference steering committee which includes:

  • Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court;
  • Juan Mendez, visiting professor of law at American University;
  • Bill Pace, Convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court;
  • Chris Stone, Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice and Faculty Director of the Hauser Center at Harvard University;
  • and, my colleague Mary Page, Director for Human Rights and International Justice at the MacArthur Foundation.

This group breathed life into the conference, taking it from an idea to a reality. Please give them a round of applause.

I also want to give special thanks to Lloyd Axworthy, a man who has worked tirelessly for many years to advance international justice. If you know Lloyd, you know this is not one who is shy about questioning long-standing concepts, such as when he led the effort to redefine sovereignty under the concept of Responsibility to Protect, or to turn the tables on skeptics and ask them, why not international justice for all? Lloyd, we’re delighted to have you here for the conference.

Scholars, policymakers and advocates speak of an “emerging” system of international justice. Building that system is a goal that we share. And it is a goal we can attain.

The most prominent anchor in the system of international justice is the International Criminal Court. But no less important are the roles of national, sub-regional, and regional courts. The system would not be where it is today without the significant body of jurisprudence developed by the ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The steady growth of regional human rights courts and commissions in Europe, the Americas, and Africa represent a trend toward accountability. ASEAN has taken the first steps in planning for its Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. My colleague Mary Page and I have come from different backgrounds, but we share a particularly strong conviction that every step – no matter how tentative – should be seen as a floor on which to build and not a ceiling.

In countries across the world, law associations, national human rights commissions and human rights advocates are pressing governments toward domestic legal reforms and to align national laws with international legal responsibilities.

Clearly there are significant gaps and room for improvement in the current system. No challenges stand larger than the need to develop justice systems at the national level to help ensure accountability for atrocity crimes. And as these systems are built and sustained, we want to see them cooperate with the ICC as it investigates cases and prosecutes individuals for crimes under its jurisdiction. These efforts will require tremendous efforts from state and non-state actors and years of work to achieve.

This conference builds on a tradition started by the ICC Prosecutor who, every three years, has presented to interested parties the multi-year strategy of his office for discussion and debate. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo will present his final three-year strategy tomorrow and we will hear about the plans and work of other important actors in the system of international justice in subsequent sessions.

As I look around the room, I’m reminded that the true significance of this meeting lies in the participants who have gathered here. You are among the most important people working to ensure the delivery of international justice and the reason for designing this conference to facilitate open discussion and debate. For international justice to move forward we must be ready to acknowledge where more needs to be done, understand the diversity of perspectives that exist, and establish mechanisms for coordinating the constituent parts at the core of the system.

Similarly, it is important to remind ourselves that accountability is only one important part of what is necessary in helping societies heal and move forward, especially after times of violent conflict. Even as we help build international justice we must lend our voices to others who are working to create a world where civil and political rights are respected, and governments ensure that basic human needs are fulfilled.

We have reason to celebrate the achievements to date in the international justice arena. Fifteen years ago few would have believed that the ICC would now be pursuing cases in four different countries, or that well over half the states around the world would have ratified the Rome Statute. Few would have believed that individuals who were heads of state at the time they were indicted by international tribunals and courts would stand trial for their accused crimes. But it happened, first at the ad hoc tribunal for the former Yugoslavia with the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, and now with the prosecution of Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

However, it would be naïve to believe that we have reached a point of no return where the current system of international justice will stomp out for good impunity for atrocity crimes. The risk remains that gains made over the past decade-and-a-half will succumb to those who want to politicize or dismantle the system that now exists. Such a threat only makes a gathering like this more important.

If our aim is an end to impunity, we have many more miles to travel. We travel that road not only to build institutions or enact laws; we travel that road to remember the voices of those that can no longer speak, to protect the voices of those who still live in fear, and to support the voices of those who are determined to press on. For them – for us – the issue is not the length of the journey, but the new mileposts we will build together on the road to creating a world where those who commit egregious crimes are held accountable.

In this room are many of the architects and the advocates on this journey. Over the next two days we will have an unparalleled opportunity to make further progress – by recognizing our common goals and identifying the synergies in our work.

Again welcome, enjoy the reception this evening, and I look forward to the discussion and debate over the next two days.


Watch video highlights from the conference.

Human Rights & International Justice, Human Rights, Justice, Policy

Consultative Conference on International Criminal Justice

This meeting's objective is to increase communication and, where feasible, coordination, among elements of the "system," including states, NGOs, UN and humanitarian agencies, law enforcement bureaus, national legal officials, and organs of the International Criminal ... Read More