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Goff: Multilateralism and Int'l Co-operation

6 December 2004

Multilateralism and international cooperation: the role of Parliamentarians

Hon Phil Goff - Opening address to the Parliamentarians for Global Action annual forum Parliament, Wellington 9am, 6 December 2004

E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi, e nga hau e wha, tenakoto katoa.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome fellow parliamentarians from around the world to Wellington, and to New Zealand’s Parliament.

I am particularly pleased to welcome you as a group of legislators whose purpose in meeting stems from a shared commitment to the International Criminal Court, an institution that I believe is of fundamental importance.

The years following the end of the Second World War saw the adoption of many instruments aimed at ensuring that atrocities of the type seen during that war would never happen again. But since that time despite the existence of the Genocide Convention, the Geneva Conventions and others, millions of civilians have been victims of serious war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in places as diverse as Cambodia, Rwanda, East Timor, the Balkans and most recently, Sudan.

The sad reality is that most of those responsible for these atrocities have not been brought to justice. A high degree of impunity has been allowed to exist because of delay in establishing, or failure to establish appropriate criminal tribunals in which offenders can be brought to justice.

Impunity allows those responsible not to be held to account for their actions, denies justice to their victims and the families of their victims, and sends the message that the international community is not prepared to take action even when the fundamental rights of humanity are breached. We have, through the International Criminal Court, declared that we are no longer prepared to tolerate these things happening.

New Zealand applauds the efforts of states and civil society that have helped bring the vision of the International Criminal Court into reality. I am aware of the long-standing commitment of Parliamentarians for Global Action to the court. It has strongly promoted efforts to hold war criminals to account going back to the early days of discussions about the concept of a permanent international criminal court. It continued to press nations to act right through the negotiations of the Rome Statute. Since its adoption in 1998, your work has played a significant role in encouraging universal ratification and implementation.

New Zealand is a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court. Our officials played an active role in the steps leading up to and during negotiations of the Rome Statute. Since adoption of the statute, we have worked closely with others to encourage widespread ratification and implementation, and to ensure recognition and respect for the court in the United Nations and the wider international arena.

New Zealand was the 17th state to ratify the Rome Statute and is currently one of only 16 states that have ratified the accompanying Agreement on Privileges and Immunities. Our International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act fully implements our obligations under the Rome Statute in New Zealand law. We are also currently involved in efforts to encourage greater ratification and implementation of the Rome Statute in Pacific Island countries.

The topic of today’s opening session is “Multilateralism and International Cooperation: The Role of Parliamentarians.” I would like to offer you a few thoughts on what role parliamentarians might play in support of the International Criminal Court. The first lies in raising awareness about the court among domestic constituencies and in making the court relevant to their lives.

The importance of international humanitarian law may not be obvious to many of our citizens largely preoccupied with everyday concerns such as health, education and social security.

In New Zealand, for example, we live in a relatively remote and peaceful place at the bottom of the South Pacific Ocean. Most New Zealanders would not seriously consider that genocide, crimes against humanity or serious war crimes could be committed here. But New Zealanders would be far more ready to acknowledge that our country might be attractive to someone fleeing justice in another part of the world, searching for safe-haven and anonymity.

Put in those terms, New Zealanders can understand the importance we’ve placed on ratifying the Rome Statute. By implementing the statute in New Zealand law, we have ensured that if asked by the court we can surrender any offender who ends up on our shores, or cooperate with the court in other ways such as in the taking of evidence from witnesses. Our implementing legislation also allows New Zealand courts to try offenders found in New Zealand for atrocities committed elsewhere.

The second role I see for parliamentarians is in encouraging full implementation and ratification of the Rome Statute and the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities in our individual countries.

For parliamentarians from states that have yet to ratify the Rome Statute, the first task is obviously to argue in favour of ratification at home. New Zealand urges all states to become party to the court in recognition of the contribution that the court can make to our common goal of enhanced security, justice and the rule of law.

Parliamentarians from existing states parties that have not yet ratified the Agreement of Privileges and Immunities should encourage ratification of that agreement as quickly as possible. The Agreement on Privileges and Immunities is important to grant the court’s officials legal status as international civil servants and ensure that those involved with the operations of the court are able to act with appropriate protection.

To date, 97 states have ratified the Rome Statute. This is an excellent achievement. But the pace of ratifications has slowed and we cannot be complacent. To be fully effective, the ICC must have the greatest possible geographical reach, ensuring that no safe havens to those trying to evade justice. We need to continue to argue the case for universal ratification. Some states that have resisted ratifying the ICC fear that the court might be abused by those intent on bringing unwarranted politically driven prosecutions.

In our view, the Rome Statute contains a comprehensive range of checks and balances to protect against abuse. I am confident that, in time, the operations of the court will prove those concerns not to have substance.

The ICC was not established to deal with lower order and one-off war crimes committed by individual soldiers in situations where that soldier’s state of nationality can, and will, try the soldier for his or her offending.

It is a court set up to try the most serious of crimes that offend against humanity as a whole in circumstances where states holding jurisdiction are either unwilling or unable to prosecute. The Rome Statute is very clear on this. The intention is to try those who commit genocide, crimes against humanity and serious war crimes that are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack. These crimes are an affront to humanity. They represent the most serious violations of international humanitarian law. They are crimes for which there can be no justification.

Most of the international community would agree that individuals who instigate, plan and carry out these atrocities should individually be held criminally responsible for their actions. These crimes must no longer be committed with impunity.

International justice must be even-handed. Those responsible for genocide in Rwanda, the massacre at Srebrenica, or the most recent atrocities in Darfur should equally be held to account for their actions.

The establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court allows international criminal justice to be even-handed. It provides a permanent body able to try those responsible for atrocities when those with domestic jurisdiction are unable or unwilling to prosecute.

For parliamentarians in states that have ratified the statute, the priority is to ensure full implementation of that statute in domestic law.

Ratification is not by itself sufficient if the court is going to operate as intended. States parties must criminalise offences covered by the Rome Statute in their domestic laws to be in a position to prosecute offenders. The specific offences need to be provided for, appropriate penalties put in place, and universal jurisdiction extended. While the chances of many states having to mount such a prosecution might currently seem remote, the path of history has shown geo-political events can change quickly.

Even if domestic prosecutions remain uncommon, many of our states may be asked to cooperate with the court in other ways. Extradition and mutual legal assistance regimes need to allow states to surrender an individual to the court and states need to be able to comply with requests to provide evidence or other support.

In addition to steps that can be taken within states, parliamentarians can also encourage action at the multilateral level.

A notable development during this past year has been the conclusion of the relationship agreement between the United Nations and the ICC. Parliamentarians can urge their own states to ensure that that agreement is fully utilised. The exchange of information on situations, and effective cooperation in the field, are just two ways in which the spirit and intention of this agreement can be fulfilled.

Another important part of the court’s relationship with the United Nations must be mutual respect for the respective roles of the Security Council and the ICC.

New Zealand welcomed the decision of the Security Council earlier this year not to renew resolution 1487, which exempted peacekeepers from the court's jurisdiction. New Zealand had strongly opposed that provision. We considered it to be inconsistent with the terms and purpose of article 16 of the Rome Statute. As parliamentarians, we should work together to combat any similar measures that threaten the integrity of the court.

A more specific effort for those parliamentarians whose states are represented on the Security Council could be to encourage leaders to have the council cooperate with the ICC within the framework of the Rome Statute.

In this regard, New Zealand accepts that national courts should remain the first line of prosecution. At the same time, we recognise that there will be instances where the nature and gravity of crimes, the political situation involved, or the capacities of the national system, mean it is necessary to rely on an international process. In such situations, the Security Council should be encouraged to recognise the role of the International Criminal Court, including by referring particular situations to the court if necessary to ensure perpetrators of the most serious crimes do not evade justice.

The International Criminal Court is a mechanism to respond to serious crimes after the event.

Preventative action is a further related issue which parliamentarians need to consider. Last year the United Nations Secretary-General established a High Level Panel to examine the threats and challenges to international peace and security and to propose concrete ways to strengthen the capacity of the UN to deal with these.

New Zealand welcomed the release of the panel’s report late last week. It brings the UN back to first principles and seeks to develop a new consensus among member states and to regain traction for multilateralism.

Included in the panel’s 101 recommendations are proposals that draw on the concept of the 'responsibility to protect'. An International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty concluded three years ago that sovereign states have a responsibility to protect their own citizens from avoidable catastrophe. When they are unwilling or unable to do so, the responsibility must be borne by the wider international community -- spanning a continuum of prevention, response to violence if necessary, and a commitment to rebuild shattered societies.

As a strong advocate of multilateralism and the rule of law, New Zealand supports the concept of the responsibility to protect within the UN framework as a basis for progressing a new consensus on international action, in order to prevent or respond to situations of extreme suffering. Gross and systematic violations of human rights anywhere are a threat to the security of us all and cannot be tolerated.

I have outlined a number of ways in which parliamentarians can play a role in encouraging greater support for the International Criminal Court: We can work to increase awareness of the importance of the court within our own countries and help make it relevant to the lives of our constituents; We can encourage ratification in states that are not yet parties to the Rome Statute and push for ratification of the Agreement on Privileges and Immunities among existing states parties; We can work to ensure full implementation of the statute in our domestic laws to ensure we can cooperate with the court when asked; And we can encourage our governments to support the court when related issues come before the United Nations and other international fora.

The programme for the assembly’s work over the next three days will no doubt stimulate discussion on these and many other issues of relevance to the court.

As a strong supporter of the court, we welcome your presence here to discuss issues relating to it. But I should in closing take the opportunity to note that we are also a very strong supporter of the International Court of Justice.

I hope that, while you are here, you may have the opportunity to meet our candidate for election to that court, Sir Kenneth Keith. Because of his long-standing interest and expertise in international humanitarian law, Sir Kenneth will be attending some parts of the conference.

Sir Kenneth, a member of our new Supreme Court, has a vast range of experience both as a senior judge but also as an expert in and practitioner of public international law. We hope that his candidature will attract very wide support when the elections are held in New York late next year.

I am also pleased to see that His Excellency Judge Neroni Slade from Samoa is present for this conference. Judge Slade was one of a number who made a significant contribution to the negotiation of the Rome Statute.

We were delighted to see him elected to the Court in 2003, although he was one of a number who drew the short straw of an initial three-year term. He will be standing for re-election in 2006 and we and other Pacific states have already signified support for his candidature, as well as that of Sir Kenneth, in recognition of the substantial contribution that we believe that he is making in these early days of the International Criminal Court.

ln addition to these important discussions, I hope that you also have the time to get to know Wellington and to see something of the attributes that New Zealand has to offer.

Welcome once again and best wishes for a successful assembly and a safe return home.

ENDS


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