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Welcoming Remarks by Mr. Urmas Paet, Minister of Foreign Affairs at the seminar “10 Years of the International Criminal Court: A Focus on Victims”, 10.09.2012, Tallinn

12. September 2012 - 21:48

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this seminar. I am honoured to address such a distinguished and expert gathering on a subject of such importance. And I am glad to do this together with my Finnish colleague, Erkki.

The discussions that will be held here in Tallinn over the next two days are a great opportunity to engage this most diverse group of stakeholders that are involved in addressing the plight of victims of the most serious international crimes. In addition to Ms. Tiina Intelmann, the President of the Assembly, I would also like to express my gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Estonian Institute of Human Rights, and the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute for their contribution to making this event possible. I would be remiss if I did not recognize the efforts of those who have come from afar, especially those joining us from the ICC’s situation countries.

This year the International Criminal Court celebrates the tenth anniversary of its existence. This is an important milestone for an institution that has come to embody the international community’s commitment to holding accountable those responsible for the gravest crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The Court has delivered its first final verdict in the case of Thomas Lubanga Dyilo. The principles of reparations for the victims of those convicted by the Court, as outlined in the Rome Statute, have also been put into practice for the first time. The importance of the Court’s first decision on reparations cannot be overstated.

With international crimes that involve countless victims, one of the key challenges is to find the best way to deliver meaningful justice for those who have suffered. The drafters of the Rome Statute decided to address this issue in a number of ways, including by establishing a Trust Fund for Victims. The Trust Fund is a unique and unprecedented institution of international reparative justice. Even before the completion of the Court’s first trial, the Trust Fund proved its worth by funding concrete projects aimed at the unique needs of tens of thousands of victims in both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the Rome Statute’s promise to the victims of the worst crimes continues to be tested, this event provides an opportunity to reflect upon the bigger picture of providing remedies for victims of international crimes.

When Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, opened the Rome Conference in 1998, he appealed to the delegates to proceed as if “the eyes of the victims of past crimes, and of the potential victims of future ones, are fixed firmly upon us.” This is the very essence of Court’s work. The process has to be meaningful for those most direct affected – the victims. At the very heart of it, international criminal justice means delivering justice for victims.

Yet the rights and needs of victims should be seen as part of a wider peace and security agenda. Achieving sustainable peace in countries emerging from a period of conflict, mass violence or systemic human rights abuse requires a set of transitional justice strategies. We cannot have a durable peace without reforming institutions, re-establishing the rule of law and, yes, without pursuing justice and accountability for crimes. Let me quote the words of a victim from northern Uganda: “The Court is important. Those seeking mercy should do it before the courts of law.” 

Too often, however, the courts of law are not part of the post-conflict agenda. Too often, the prosecution of those who have committed international crimes is overshadowed by other priorities. In the longer term, failure to address grievances and to deal with past atrocities in a just way can contribute to a recurrence of violence and human rights abuses. Victims’ rights must be kept on the post-conflict agenda. It is crucial that steps be taken to establish the truth about past violations and their perpetrators be brought to justice in order to restore the confidence of victims in their state and to facilitate the reconciliation process. States have the responsibility to act not only against perpetrators, but also on behalf of victims. This is also true of reparation and rehabilitation programs. It is essential that efforts made by the state in which the atrocities have been committed reflect the needs of conflict-affected communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The ICC’s judges have tasked the Trust Fund for Victims to consult with victims and their communities. They are to discuss the design and implementation of appropriate collective reparation measures to be awarded. The Court’s reputation in the eyes of victim communities is closely tied to its ability to deliver just and reasonable reparations. The reports by the Trust Fund for Victims clearly show the complexity of the issue and highlight the challenges.

Firstly, it is rightly noted that both the victims and the international community have high expectations. Meeting them will be no easy task. Without a doubt the ICC’s reparative justice will affect similar initiatives in domestic and other international jurisdictions.

Secondly, restorative justice has to address the specific needs of the various communities in which the victims live. This is necessary for reparations to be meaningful, locally relevant, and culturally appropriate. The process and the result are equally important. Reparation awards must avoid creating any further harm.

Thirdly, reparation orders should incorporate the gender dimension. We welcome the stipulation by the Court that the needs of vulnerable victims – including women, children and victims of sexual and gender-based violence – must be addressed as a priority. Reparations can be used as a vehicle to empower women and girls and to address gender inequality, one of the root causes of violence against women.

There is a growing understanding that women, girls and children are impacted uniquely and disproportionately by the effects of conflict and its aftermath. Estonia has focused its development cooperation as well as its humanitarian and human rights activities on supporting these vulnerable groups. We thus regularly contribute to international programmes and funds, including UN Women, UNICEF and UNGEI. We also support the principles and implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and successive resolutions on women, peace and security, including through the adoption of a national action plan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The entry into force of the Rome Statute ten years ago raised the importance of international criminal justice. It also provided a new legal basis to acknowledge the harm done to victims of grave atrocities. Now is the time that the implementation of this vision must face the test of reality. I believe that reparation awards, as ordered by the Court and implemented by the Trust Fund for Victims, will succeed in opening a new inspiring chapter in international reparative justice. This seminar will play an important role in making the transition from hope to reality.

I wish you success in your discussions.

Thank you.

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