Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations

New York City
December 6, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President.

Today is an especially momentous occasion as we reflect on the most recent report and, more importantly, on the closing of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at the end of the month. The United States thanks President Meron, President Agius, and Prosecutor Brammertz – indeed all those who have served at the ICTY or supported it through their work in government, NGOs, or UN institutions over the past 23 years. In addition, we note our special gratitude and respect for the many victims who participated in proceedings and kept faith in the international community’s commitment to justice.

The ICTY was the first international tribunal since Nuremberg and Tokyo to investigate and prosecute allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. As the vanguard of modern international justice, it established key precedents in international criminal law, setting the stage for and guiding the work of subsequent tribunals established to investigate and prosecute atrocities in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and elsewhere.

Through its work, the ICTY has created a legacy of the greatest importance. It has established a factual and depoliticized record of the crimes committed during the war. We applaud the ICTY’s record, which includes indicting 161 individuals, and holding accountable senior political and military leaders for their roles in crimes committed during the war in the Balkans.

We especially highlight the recent verdict in the case of Ratko Mladic as an important step toward holding to account those individuals responsible for the tremendous suffering of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Among other crimes, Mladic was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica in 1995, crimes against humanity and persecution across the country, terrorizing the population of Sarajevo, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage. We hope this decision can provide some sense of justice and closure to victims and their families.

The United States has been a steadfast supporter of the ICTY, and we encourage all states to respect its rulings. Countries cannot pick and choose on matters of justice. Our commitment to supporting justice and reconciliation in the Balkans continues as the Tribunal’s remaining functions shift to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals or MICT.

The primary focus of attention now moves to national jurisdictions and we call on all countries in the region to reinvigorate cooperation to resolve remaining cases. However, on the specific issue of the two surviving individuals charged with contempt of court in relation to witness intimidation in the case of Vojislav Šešelj, the United States applauds the order of President Agius transferring this case to the MICT. We call on the government of Serbia to cooperate with the MICT and execute the arrest warrants, and underscore the government’s obligation to do so.

The United States commends the MICT for its progress during the reporting period. We appreciate the continued focus on the expeditious completion of trials and appeals. We also note with satisfaction that following the issuance of three audit reports during the reporting period, the MICT has either implemented, or is in the process of implementing, all recommendations. We are encouraged by the priorities identified by the President and the Prosecutor, and applaud the progress made in restructuring and refocusing the Fugitives and Investigations unit in order to apprehend the eight remaining ICTR fugitives.

The United States is firmly committed to the continuing efforts to locate and arrest the eight remaining ICTR fugitives. Three of the fugitives will be tried by the MICT and five others will be transferred to Rwanda. We continue to offer a reward of up to $5 million dollars each for information leading to the arrest or transfer of these eight men, and stand ready to engage with the new task forces. We likewise call on all states and relevant law enforcement agencies in Europe and Africa to cooperate with efforts to apprehend these fugitives. They have escaped justice for too long. With a refocused tracking unit, and with the renewed cooperation of the international community and law enforcement agencies, their arrest is possible.

The MICT’s efforts to increase public access to judicial records and translate International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda trial judgments into Kinyarawanda, as well as the responsiveness by the Prosecutor to requests for assistance by national judicial authorities, are important initiatives that will ensure the ICTR has an enduring and broad impact. Similarly, the trainings for domestic prosecutors from East Africa conducted by the prosecutor will contribute to building the capacity of national jurisdictions to investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes.

While the ICTY may be closing its doors, it leaves behind a legacy of justice, a robust body of international case law, and a hope among victims of atrocities that perpetrators, even the most senior military and political leaders of a country, can be held accountable. It also established a truthful, historical record that can both assist with regional reconciliation efforts and ensure crimes cannot be legitimately denied. The same can be said of the Rwanda Tribunal. The pursuit of justice for conflict-related atrocities is not over.

In the Balkans there are many hundreds of cases currently in the hands of national authorities in the region. In Rwanda and surrounding countries, fugitives remain at large. We call on these governments to credibly investigate and prosecute these cases, as appropriate, cooperating with one another and the MICT to that end. The United States will continue its support and congratulates the forward-looking efforts of the MICT to play a role in these processes, including through capacity building support.

As the ICTY has shown, when we work together, we can achieve a measure of justice and accountability for the world’s most horrific atrocities.

Thank you, Mr. President.