International Law

U.N. Official Speaks Out Against Amnesty for War Criminals

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The second-ranking officer of the United Nations advocated last night for a tough policy toward individuals charged with war crimes and other serious violations of international criminal law.

The question of whether amnesty, pardons or other conciliatory measures should apply toward government officials, members of military forces and others charged with such violations has been gaining attention as a possible device for reducing tensions and creating opportunities for reconciliation in regions emerging from military conflicts and civil wars.

But Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro, the U.N.’s deputy secretary-general, expressed a dim view of the idea that letting war criminals off the hook might help in the long run when she gave the keynote address at the ABA Annual Meeting, which winds up Tuesday in New York City.

“The U.N. cannot support amnesty” for war crimes, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity, Migiro told an ABA audience in the ballroom of the Waldorf=Astoria.

Migiro also gave a strong endorsement to the International Criminal Court. The ICC exists as an independent entity, although the U.N. convened the treaty conference that wrote the statute for the court in 1998. The court came into existence in 2002. The court “has already established itself as the most important entity in international criminal law,” Migiro said. “It is one of the major achievements in international law in the past century.”

The issue of amnesty also came up at a program earlier Saturday commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Panelist Juan E. Mendez, the president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, said growing interest in bringing violators of international criminal law to justice are making it harder for governments to grant blanket pardons. He noted, however, that the Bush administration has hinted it is considering such a step for administration and military officials engaged in planning and carrying out U.S. anti-terrorist policies.

The Bush administration has maintained a largely antagonistic policy toward the ICC, largely due to concerns about whether its jurisdiction could reach to U.S. officials and military personnel. Expectations are growing that a new administration will reconsider that policy. A recommendation coming before the House of Delegates, which begins deliberations Monday, urges the government to increase its interaction with the ICC.

In her speech, Migiro praised the ABA’s efforts to launch the World Justice Project, the primary policy initiative of outgoing ABA President William H. Neukom. “The rule-of-law community must do more in the face of greater challenges,” she said. “If we succeed—and we must—the rule of law will put in place the foundation stone for a peaceful and prosperous world.”

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