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
June 7, 2017


Thank you, Mr. President.

The United States extends its sincere appreciation to President Meron, President Agius, and Prosecutor Brammertz for their reports today on the ongoing work to achieve justice for victims of the vicious atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda that stained the history of humanity.

As we look toward December and the anticipated closure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and merging of essential functions with the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, the United States wishes to underscore that it remains as committed to the work of the Tribunal as we were when it was established nearly a quarter century ago.

Completion of the Tribunal’s mandate is essential. We applaud the completion of trial proceedings in the Ratko Mladic case, and look forward to the delivery of the judgment later this year.

While we can never undo the horrors of war, bringing cases to their conclusions – as was done last year when former Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadžić was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war. This goes a long way toward closing a dark chapter of history and creating a legacy of showing would-be perpetrators of atrocities elsewhere in the world that they cannot act with impunity. The United States has consistently emphasized that the Tribunal and the Mechanism establish facts through judicial process. This process is critical to counter those who seek to distort facts, revise history, engage in genocide denialism, or rewrite reality.

The United States continues to be greatly concerned about the detrimental impact of increasingly divisive political speech in the region on the pursuit of justice for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. Such inflammatory rhetoric harms regional cooperation among the states of the former Yugoslavia, which is essential to promoting accountability for war crimes. In this regard, the United States would like to express our sincere appreciation for the contribution of these Tribunals, including the Office of the Prosecutor, to developing a historical record of the facts, to counter those who seek to deny the nature of the widespread crimes, including genocide, that took place. The kinds of hateful ideologies that led to these horrific acts persist to this day, and together we must continue our efforts to relegate them to the past.

The United States also remains concerned that three arrest warrants for individuals charged with contempt of court in relation to witness intimidation in the case of Vojislav Šešelj have remained unexecuted in Serbia for nearly two and a half years. Cooperation with the Tribunal is an ongoing, binding obligation. The United States calls on Serbia to execute these arrests without further delay, and we look to the newly appointed Serbian War Crimes Prosecutor to play a constructive role in that process. The Council should be unified in the message to Serbia that failure to fully cooperate with the Tribunal in accordance with its statutes and the resolutions of this Council compromises the core functions of the international justice system and must be addressed with appropriate urgency.

The United States commends the ongoing work of the prosecutor’s office to reshape the fugitive tracking program, so that the eight remaining fugitives from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda may be swiftly located, arrested, and brought to justice. We are happy to see these changes. This effort is not window dressing; the restructuring that has been done appears capable of having a significant impact on tracking efforts, both by improving information sharing and placing a renewed emphasis on timely and effective intelligence and analysis. We remain committed to the apprehension of the remaining fugitives and look forward to engaging with the two new task forces – focused on Africa and Europe – in this effort. We call on all states, especially those in the Great Lakes region, to cooperate with efforts to apprehend these fugitives. To that end, the United States continues to offer a reward of up to $5 million dollars for information leading to the arrest or transfer of these eight men.

With regard to management and the transition, the United States appreciates the careful planning and ongoing work of both the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Mechanism Registrars to navigate complicated issues during this period of transition for both institutions. We are happy to hear of the significant progress made to downsize offices, and reduce costs as the Tribunal looks to close at the end of the year.

We also noted the ICTY’s concerns about staff attrition, and we thank them for their considerable efforts to retain core staff, including by providing training and making other accommodations, and urge them to continue these initiatives. We are grateful for the personal and professional sacrifices the staff of both tribunals have made.

In addition, we are glad to hear that the four audit reports of the Mechanism issued by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services during the reporting period found satisfactory management and controls and that the Mechanism is striving to take necessary actions where recommendations for improvement were made. The United States remains deeply concerned that the Mechanism’s casework is being severely impaired due to the situation of Judge Akay. We continue to emphasize the need for this matter to be resolved fairly and expeditiously.

The mandate of the Tribunal may be nearing an end, but its work to end impunity and promote justice will be enduring. Even more, the work of the Mechanism and Tribunal reminds us daily of the critical need to seek accountability where atrocities against civilians have so far been met with impunity – places like Syria and South Sudan.

Thank you, Mr. President.