I am grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution on the Universal Jurisdiction of Human Rights Bill 2015. I warmly commend my colleague, Deputy Mick Wallace, for bringing the Bill before us and for the enormous amount of work he has done on it and on related issues.
One of the fathers of international law is the great Jan Amos Komensky, known as Comenius, the Czech philosopher who made an important contribution in the early 17th century to advancing ideas on world peace and universal justice. He was writing about international peace and legal structures at a time when the German people were embroiled in the Thirty Years War, where at least 8 million Germans were slaughtered by different invading armies. At a time of desolation, he tried to get a prohibition on warfare and the creation of universal institutions of humanity.
During my first two terms in this House, I strongly supported the setting up of the International Criminal Court, ICC. The House might remember it was the Radical Party of Italy which led that campaign and which regularly communicated with us here in Dáil Éireann in order to try to bring the idea forward in the mid and late 1990s, particularly in response to the incredible horrors we saw in the former Yugoslavia. The Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court was adopted by 120 states on 17 July 1998 but it was not until ratification in 2002 that the ICC became operational. It did not have retrospective jurisdiction and we have heard that a number of countries where atrocities have been committed are not participants in the statute.
The ICC has done some valuable work over the years in attempting to address the perpetrators of savage attacks on citizens and in pursuing mass murderers such as Radovan Karadzic of Bosnia, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and General Ratko Mladic. Unfortunately, many observers think President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and other promoters of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans escaped the censure of the ICC for some of the reasons Deputies Wallace and Daly have outlined. To date, there have only been 23 cases before the ICC. It has issued just 29 arrest warrants and only eight persons have been detained in the detention centre of the ICC to appear before the court. According to the ICC website, 13 persons remain at large and charges have been dropped against three persons due to their deaths. ICC judges have issued nine summonses to appear and issued six verdicts. Therefore, there is obviously a platform but, at the moment, it is a platform which cannot really address the scale of horrors that humanity has witnessed in the past 40 to 50 years.
One of the issues, as the Ceann Comhairle would agree, is that the United Nations organisation has been kept so weak and marginal over the years, in particular by the powerful permanent members of the Security Council, especially the US, Russia and China. It is clear the mission of the UN should include the promotion of democracy and justice and a system of full accountability for leaders who inflict terrible harm on their citizens.
While I have heard the Minister of State’s comments on the 2006 Act, I believe the Bill before us will strengthen Ireland’s participation in universal jurisdiction by amending section 7(1) of the 2006 Act. The narrow existing wording, “any person who commits genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime is guilty of an offence”, will be expanded to a much more comprehensive statement that, “any person, whatever their nationality and wherever in the world, who commits a crime against humanity, a war crime or genocide is guilty of an offence and is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for life by the State.” As previous speakers have said, Ireland should take a prominent and leading role in pushing forward the concept of universal justice.
A notable example of the use of universal jurisdiction was when the Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón, with the support of France, Belgium and Switzerland, indicted General Augusto Pinochet, the former dictator of Chile who overthrew the democratically elected Allende government. Judge Garzón looked for Pinochet’s extradition from the UK where he was receiving medical treatment. Unfortunately, the UK authorities appeared to make sure he was found to be in ill health and the extradition and trial did not proceed.
The Bill amends the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act 2000 and the International Criminal Court Act 2006 retrospectively and provides for those who breach human rights law to be charged and convicted. I heard the discussion about the definition of crimes against humanity. I believe the suggested definition, namely, “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”, is fairly comprehensive and it also includes murder, extermination, genocide, apartheid, torture, rape and so on.
In the past 100 years there has been a growing determination among international opinion to try to bring to justice those leaders and politicians who have committed massive violations of human rights. This concept was alluded to in President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points. Unfortunately, some of the democratic developments in the early 1920s, including the establishment of our State, turned towards a more murderous era in the 1930s and 1940s. The Nuremburg prosecutions and trials of the surviving Nazi leadership marked a first watershed in attempting to create an international legal order of accountability and justice. There are now a number of international treaties to ensure the further use of universal jurisdiction, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1973 Convention Against Apartheid and the 1984 Convention Against Torture, for example.
Human Rights Watch calls universal jurisdiction a “crucial tool by which victims of grave international crimes can obtain redress” and “an important means of reducing the unevenness in the landscape of international justice.” Even since the Second World War, we have seen incredible instances of genocide, mass murder and other terrible crimes against humanity, including mass oppression in China, where the Tibetan and Uighur peoples had their national independence crushed, the appalling crimes committed in Vietnam, Laos and especially Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime, the mass slaughter of Indonesians of Chinese decent and the genocides and ethnic conflict in newly independent African states like Uganda, Rwanda, Igboland in Nigeria, Congo and currently in newly independent South Sudan.
Of course, this is the point. Events like this are happening as we speak, with horrors being perpetrated where two factions battle it out and ordinary men, women and children suffer drastically in the process. There have been many other oppressive regimes and terrible conflicts, including crimes committed in apartheid South Africa, under the military dictatorships in Argentina and Chile, during the appalling carnage in former Yugoslavia and in the mayhem and mass murders during the past 15 years in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. These events have all cried out for accountability and justice. I note the points that have been made many times in this House by Deputies Wallace and Daly and others in regard to the sale of weapons to, for example, Saudi Arabia and the way those weapons have been used, as many would say, in a form of genocidal attack on the people of Yemen and in other areas.
We watch the news and we are shocked and disgusted at happenings around the world but we then go back to our daily lives. Deputy Wallace has tried in this Bill not to make that response but to see if there is something, however small, that our proud, independent State can do about it. The United Nations needs to take a strengthened and proactive role against those who commit crimes against humanity.
It is clearly in need of urgent reform and strengthening. In the opportunities the Ceann Comhairle might have available in various fora, I hope he will try to push forward reports such as the one from the European Parliament of March 2015 entitled, Reforming the United Nations: State of Play, Ways Forward, in which some of the elements are mentioned. This and other EU member states are the biggest financial supporters of the United Nations. We might have a much more responsive and accountable international order.
At the end of 2016 a resolution was adopted by the UN General Assembly to establish a unit to undertake the investigation of serious crimes that had been committed since 2011 in Syria. The Syrian Government has consistently refused to comply with resolutions of the UN Security Council. Human Rights Watch, for one, states universal jurisdiction such as that being proposed in the House tonight should be used in Syria and that the International Criminal Court should be given a mandate to deal with the ongoing conflict and subsequent crimes.
I warmly welcome the Universal Jurisdiction of Human Rights Bill in the name of Deputy Mick Wallace. It offers hope there will be no hiding place for politicians and leaders who have led and promoted hateful crimes against their own citizens and humanity.