Remarks at a UN General Assembly Briefing and Debate on the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals

Ambassador Chris Lu
U.S. Representative for UN Management and Reform
New York, New York
October 18, 2023

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Mr. President.

At the outset, the United States expresses its condolences to Uganda regarding the passing of Judge Elizabeth Ibanda-Nahamya. We welcome the Secretary-General’s appointment of Judge Lydia Mugambe and wish her well in this role.

We are grateful to President Gatti Santana for her leadership of this important institution. Every year, the Mechanism makes enormous strides in delivering justice with respect to some of the gravest crimes of the past century.

Notably, in May, the Office of the Prosecutor‘s fugitive tracking team and South African authorities finally captured Fulgence Kayishema, who had evaded arrest for over twenty years.

Kayishema was a significant figure in the Rwandan genocide and was charged with genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity for his alleged role in the murders of more than 2,000 Tutsi men, women, and children at the Nyange Parish Church.

His arrest cannot restore what was lost in April 1994 in Kivumu, but we hope that it will provide victims some comfort that the fight for justice for their loved ones will continue and the facts surrounding their death will be fully brought to light. We look forward to the expeditious and fair conclusion to the legal proceedings surrounding the Mechanism’s request to transfer him into its custody.

Time is particularly urgent in the remaining cases, almost three decades after the crimes were committed. The recent determination by the Appeals Chamber that Felicien Kabuga—captured 26 years after he was indicted—is not competent to stand trial, highlights the urgency of accountability and the risk that justice delayed can become justice denied.

Additional steps must be taken today in the name of justice and prevention of future atrocities. This includes the swift resolution of cases of the three remaining Rwandan fugitives. We call on Member States that may be harboring them, or that might be aware of their last known whereabouts, to cooperate with the Mechanism and its investigations.

With respect to the former Yugoslavia, we appreciate the significance of the Mechanism’s recent appeals judgment in the case of Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović.

This long-awaited judgment, which recognizes the responsibility of these former government officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, is the final case involving core crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and closes an important chapter in the history of international criminal justice.

Just over thirty years ago, the UN Security Council passed resolution 827 to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the first international tribunal since Nuremberg and Tokyo to address genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

That tribunal demonstrated that even the most senior military and political leaders can be held accountable for atrocity crimes. We are grateful for the decades of work by the judges, attorneys, and other court staff of the ICTY and the Mechanism, and their immense contributions to the rule of law and the fight against impunity in the former Yugoslavia.

As the work of the Mechanism on cases involving core international crimes draws to a close, we appreciate President Gatti’s expressed priorities, including to streamline the functions of the Mechanism. Along these lines, we also appreciate the work of the Mechanism in responding to national authorities’ requests for assistance and supporting their efforts to advance justice in their own systems.

The Mechanism has served an indispensable role in carrying out the legacy work of the ICTY and the ICTR, but national authorities must bear the primary responsibility of providing justice to victims.

The success of the Mechanism, at all phases of its life cycle, depends on the cooperation and support of all states. We are grateful in particular for the role played by South Africa in the capture and arrest of Kayishema and to the thirteen countries which serve as enforcement states holding those who have been convicted, as a fundamental pillar to the successful operation of the Mechanism.

Thank you.

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