Statement by Ambassador Masood Khan, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, during the thematic debate of the General Assembly on ‘The Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation' New York (10 April 2013)

Mr. President,

We appreciate the highly substantive statement made by the Secretary-General, H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon yesterday..

Pakistan is speaking today to express its views on the Role of International Criminal Justice in Reconciliation.

Since time immemorial, the aphorisms suggesting that might is right and justice is the interest of the stronger have been disputed.

But it was in the last century that the international community took the preliminary steps towards a truly international criminal justice system. This system is thus not an external imposition but a product of our collective experience.

The quest for justice is natural. Justice is central to the march of civilization. The charter of the UN, its purposes and principles and international law are at the heart of a rule-based international community.

The evolution of international criminal justice from the Second World War to the current wave of establishing institutions and rules during the last two decades is an irreversible trend.

The emerging new system of international criminal law seems to be a combination of loosely linked proceedings of regional, international and hybrid courts.

The common thread that runs through judicial proceedings at all levels is the denial of impunity for the most egregious crimes and mass atrocities.

The justness of a cause or a war does not allow for atrocities and indignities to be directed against combatants or unprotected civilians representing the other side. This has now become jus cogens or a peremptory norm of international law.

As the Secretary General underlined this morning international criminal justice is something much more than punishment. It should recognize injury, establish truth, acknowledge victims’ dignity and preserve their narrative in collective memory.

It has to be administered in such a manner that it leads to reconciliation and sustainable peace.

The basic objective of establishing these international criminal law institutions was the search for justice and truth. However, there was an expectation that these institutions would not only deliver justice but heal the wounds of war, lift the burden of collective guilt, and pave the way to reconciliation.

In spite of the heavy burden of the secondary objectives, the role of the UN-assisted tribunals in delivering justice and ending impunity has been satisfactory.

We support the mandates and work of the UN- assisted tribunals. They have shown that no one is above the reach of international law. Their decisions have highlighted the importance of due process and highest standards in judicial proceedings.

We want to pay tribute to UN tribunals’ judges, prosecutors and staff for their hard work, dedication and professionalism.

We are happy to note that a comprehensive corpus of precedents in international criminal law has been developed as a result of the tribunals’ work. We acknowledge their contribution to procedural and evidentiary international criminal law. Legal doctrine and an impressive body of jurisprudence developed by these tribunals would influence the fight against impunity and shape the future of global justice.

The UN-assisted tribunals will leave behind an abiding legacy. They are not a transient phenomenon.

Accountability is important for countries and regions that have been ravaged by war and armed conflict. It helps them rebuild their societies and transition them towards reconciliation, cooperation, stability and security.

The purpose of the international criminal law is to foster a culture of accountability for peace and security; not to sanction, incite or fuel reprisals.

The Tribunals, by upholding the rights to due process, fair trial and appeal, have demonstrated that international criminal justice is taking root.

The Tribunals have faced teething problems related to arrest of suspects, witness protection, implementation of decisions including requests to States for hosting convicted persons, inadequate regional cooperation and delays.

The courts are in the process of building trust in regard to administering justice for all victims. They need help with enforcements of their judgments and relocation of those acquitted.

Pakistan lauds the cooperation extended by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, and Rwanda to the two Tribunals and the Residual Mechanism.

Overall, this cooperation has stabilized the situation in the Balkans, as well as Rwanda and its neighbouring countries. Other tribunals had salutary impact in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, East Timor and Lebanon.

The Tribunals themselves have a critical role in national capacity building for consistent resort to domestic criminal law (DCL). The principle of complementarity is important. National institutions must be enabled and strengthened to prosecute serious war crimes effectively where such capacity does not exist.

National and regional ownership become particularly important as the Tribunals begin to wind down their work.

Mr. President,

There are limits to retributive justice both domestically and internationally. True, the war tribunals help restore confidence of shattered societies and attenuate calls for revenge and recrimination.

But problems linger if individualization of guilt paints an entire society with the same brush and if constant litigious atmosphere hamstrings reconciliation. In certain complex situations, a gradual transition to truth seeking and reconciliation is a better recipe for transcending the torturous past and moving towards a more interdependent destiny.

In post-conflict situations, there is a time for justice, a time of healing, a time for reconciliation, a time for moving on, and a time for closure. There is a time for unifying previously hostile segments of populations and nations.

Mr. President,

Our discussion should go beyond polemics and excessive self-regard in order to deepen our understanding of the importance of international criminal justice and positive contribution made by UN-assisted tribunals to end impunity and uphold principles of IHL.

The international courts' work should always be guided by fairness, impartiality, independence and integrity. A recent verdict of the ICTY has evoked strong emotions. We should handle this controversy prudently and responsibly. We should not allow these emotions against the Tribunal or its defense to undermine its mandate and authority. In fact, the Tribunal's catalytic role to promote reconciliation must be upheld.

I conclude my statement with an extract from the editorial of Oxford Journal of International Criminal Justice:

“ICTY and ICTR are not fig leaves to cover up the international community’s inability to prevent or stop atrocities. They have grown into effective mechanisms to establish accountability… The strength of the international criminal justice is not so much in its achievement but in the justness of its purpose.”

I thank you, Mr. President.