Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at International Criminal Justice Symposium: “Bearing Witness to Atrocity”
April 9, 2009 | Speech | Human Rights

Thank you, Chancellor Birgeneau for your generous introduction. It is a privilege for me to be here at Berkeley for this important event.

Over the last two days, Berkeley’s Human Rights Center has been the venue for a colloquium on international justice, the fourth and final in a series to mark MacArthur’s thirtieth anniversary.

Lawyers, legal scholars, and human rights advocates addressed the role of witnesses and victims of atrocities in prosecuting those accused of crimes against humanity. The discussion was compelling and moving. As we insist on accountability for those who have committed terrible crimes, we must be sensitive to the pain and vulnerability of those they have wronged. Giving witnesses a dignified and respectful hearing, protecting the rights of victims, honoring their loss and suffering, are central to the pursuit of justice but also to reconciliation and rebuilding of shattered lives and fragile communities. This is the human face of the international justice system we seek to build.

MacArthur has a long history with human rights. Our first grant, in 1978, was to Amnesty International. Since then, we have supported 600 organizations working on the frontlines in 90 countries to expose abuses and strengthen the rule of law. Convinced that crimes against humanity require a concerted international response, we have worked to build an effective system of international justice and champion the responsibility to protect. The International Criminal Court, other newly established war crimes tribunals, and regional courts and commissions are sending a powerful message to those who would commit horrible crimes: there is no place to hide.

In March last year, MacArthur honored Kofi Annan with its inaugural Award for International Justice, a tribute to his role in establishing the ICC and encouraging the Responsibility to Protect. His stirring acceptance speech sharpened our resolve to build a system that moves the world from an era of impunity to an age of accountability. Later this spring, the second Award will be conferred on Richard Goldstone. His work as Chief Prosecutor of the UN Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda gave moral authority and legal credibility to those bodies, and helped speed the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Our colloquia across the country addressed key issues in how this system is taking shape. The first, at DePaul University in Chicago, assessed the progress and prospects of the International Criminal Court. The second, at the Washington College of Law, focused on the future of regional courts and commissions, particularly the Inter American and African courts. The third, at the Yale Law School, examined progress in international justice through the lens of Darfur. Our final event, here at Berkeley, is grappling with the least abstract and most wrenching issue, how international justice can best serve and protect victims and witnesses who come forward with crucial but disturbing evidence. Their testimonies are not mere elements in a legal process but acts of courage, determination, integrity, and hope.

The deep concern for the victims of atrocities demonstrated by Berkeley Human Rights Center persuaded MacArthur that this was the most appropriate venue for our culminating colloquium. We have admired and supported the Center’s work for many years. In 1999, MacArthur funded research by Eric Stover and Harvey Weinstein on how communities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia experienced and understood the trials held by the ad hoc UN tribunals. Further groundbreaking work followed, as the Center documented how victims perceived the process of justice in Uganda, the DRC, and in Cambodia where the Extraordinary Chambers have just begun to try Khmer Rouge leaders from the period of the “killing fields.” The Center’s careful, evidence-based research brings the voices of those most affected by mass atrocities to public discussions about peace and justice.

MacArthur is proud to support work that is so charged with empathy, a passion for truth, and the determination to eradicate crimes against humanity from the face of the earth.

Our grantees constitute an honor roll of those who fight for the rights of victims. Avocats Sans Frontières brings legal counsel to victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice protects and assists those who have suffered from the LRA in Northern Uganda; REDRESS coordinates the Victims Rights Working Group; the Institute of War and Peace Reporting helps local journalists amplify victims’ voices and bring their stories to a wider public.

Their work, and the work of Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, is essential to building a more just and peaceful world. Reconciliation after conflict is imperative. But it can be painful. For lasting reconciliation requires dealing with uncomfortable truths and grappling with how justice can best be done.

This evening, we gather to honor a leader who bears witness to this redemptive process. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has helped a nation recover its better self, re-establish the rule of law, begin the process of healing and restoration. Her brave request to Nigeria brought Charles Taylor to answer before the Special Court in Sierra Leone. Her support for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created an environment in which victim’s narratives are honored and a tragic history honestly reviewed and recorded.

Her belief, that “when the truth is told, humanity is redeemed from the cowardly claws of violence,” is one the MacArthur Foundation shares. It is an honor for me to share the podium with her. Thank you for your attention — and for sharing our hope that “never again” will be a pledge fulfilled in our own time.


For More Information

Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley

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