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The Genocide Convention International Conference Commemorating its 60th Anniversary - Endnote held Mr. Günter Nooke (englisch) - 06.12.2008

06.12.2008 - Rede

Endnote held by Mr Günter Nooke, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Federal Foreign Office, Berlin

in Frankfurt/Main on 6 December 2008

Dear Mr Stein,
Dear State-Secretary Schäfer,
urable Judges and Professors,
Dear Mr Harris,
Dear Mr. Bach,
Dear Mr. Düx,
Dear Participants of this Conference,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address this distinguished audience. At the conclusion of this Conference commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Genocide Convention I would like to share with you a few thoughts on the issue of genocide from a broader politicalperspective. What does genocide have to do with international relations in the 21st century? What can Germany, what can the Europeans contribute to eradicating this horrible crime?

Of course, my first thought is of the genocide which happened in my own country – the Holocaust. The mass murder of millions of Jews in the name of Germany is inextricably linked with our history. The question of why and how it could happen still has not received a comprehensive answer. However, it seems to me that the complete denial of human dignitywas a decisive factor. The drafters of our constitution, the Basic Law, were fully aware of that. Consequently they put human dignity first, above all other human and basic rights and all other constitutional principles. Defending and promoting human dignity is an essential tool in combating genocide. It is not an abstract philosophical concept. For those who are killed, raped and tortured human dignity has a very concrete dimension. Human dignity must therefore remain a priority on our daily agenda.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Significant progress has been made by the international community over the past 60 years in developing relevant mechanisms and practices to prevent and punish the crime of genocide, thereby contributing to the implementation of the Convention. We fully support the mandate of the Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide, adopted in 2004, as an important step within the framework of the United Nations.

Furthermore, we commend the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslaviaand for Rwandafor their most valuable contributions to dealing with the past of genocide-affected conflict regions.

In June 2003 the European Union adopted a Common Position to support the effective functioning of the International Criminal Courtand to advance universal support for it by promoting the widest possible participation in the Rome Statute. I would like to seize this opportunity to call upon all states which have not yet done so to accede to the Rome Statute without delay!

When I visited the criminal courts in the Hague only a short while ago, I was reminded that the prosecution of crimes is not an end in itself.

The Rome Statute counts genocide as one of the four “most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole”. Putting an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes contributes to the preventionof these crimes.

However, genocide preventionmust be a continuous process built on concrete strategies and effective mechanisms. We need more exchange of information between all relevant actors in order to provide a solid basis for defining adequate measures to counter any threat of genocide. In relevant situations a set of multiple factors needs to be promptly and comprehensively examined. These include the existence of groups at risk, the massive, serious and systematic violation of human rights, the resurgence of systematic discrimination, and the prevalence of expressions of hate speech targeting persons belonging to national, ethnic, racial or religious groups, especially when made in the context of an actual or potential outbreak of violence.

We therefore have a common responsibility to remain vigilant and intervene at the earliest possible stage to avoid any eruption of genocidal violence. This pre-emptive approach lies, as is sometimes overlooked, at the heart of the much-discussed concept of the “Responsibility to Protect”. Yet, what remains unresolved for the time being is the essential question of the threshold for military intervention, as well as the responsibility of States if the international community fails to act, as was the case in Rwanda.

Sixty years ago the Genocide Convention was adopted in a spirit of „never again!“ Today we must face the reality that genocide has not disappeared. Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica – just to name a few cases in point. And it worries me that even countries aspiring for EU membership have not yet come to terms with their past.

In this context allow me a critical footnote to the recent decision of the European Union to punish the denial of genocide in Europe. With regard to Germany, punishing the denial of the Holocaust is appropriate, I believe, in light of our history. However, on a personal basis, I am afraid to say that the EU decision could trigger a dynamic which could be misused to restrict the freedom of speech and opinion in a way that might impede a perhaps necessary debate in other parts of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Some argue that peace has priority over justice. Others go so far as to portray criminal justice as an obstacle to bringing about peace. They claim that in order to bring about peace, concessions to the perpetrators of horrendous crimes must be accepted. Some of you attended an international conference on peace and justice held in Nuremberg in June 2007, organized by our Federal Foreign Office in cooperation with our friends from Finland, Jordan and from civil society. Today I would like to draw your attention to the “Nuremberg Declaration on Peace and Justice” which was issued one year later by a group of international experts, designated by the Conference organizers, under the auspices of President Arrias of Costa Rica.

The Declaration affirms the basic principle of the Rome Statute, namely that there must be no impunity for the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole. It emphasizes that peace and justice are notcontradictory, but rather promote and sustain one another. This is very much in line with the position taken by the United Nations Secretary-General that peace and justice must go hand in hand and that there can be no sustainable peace without justice.

In its preamble the States Parties to the Rome Statute recognize “that such grave crimes threaten the peace, security and well-being of the world”. Here we have it: it is the crimes which are an obstacle to peace and security – not their prosecution! Fighting genocide is not only a matter of human rights policy. Combating this crime is also imperative for the sake of peace and its underlying pillars, that is human rights protection, security and development. There is no dilemma between peace and justice. Leaving genocide unpunished would constitute a threat to peace and security. Consequently, impunity for those bearing the greatest responsibility is simply not an option.

And this is why States should accept - and not work against - the request of the ICC’s Prosecutor to issue an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state charged with genocide in Darfur/Sudan. Ladies and Gentlemen, the question of a deferral according to Art. 16 of the Rome Statute, if it arises, should be handled with utmost care. It does not make sense to establish an independent international judicial body to prosecute the most serious crimes – and at the same time complain about political difficulties when this body does its job.

Whether or not the crimes committed in Darfur amount to genocide remains for the Court to decide. The fact of the matter is that mass atrocities against humanity have been committed. Putting an end to impunity for the perpetrators is not only a matter of our own credibility, but something we owe to the hundreds of thousands of victims in Darfur and elsewhere in the world.

Darfur reminds us that acts of genocide tend to appear in the wake of armed conflict. War and genocide seem to be close allies. It is not without reason that the crime of aggression is widely characterized as “the mother of all crimes” under international law. We therefore fully support the efforts by the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute to rally the widest possible support for a future provision in the Statute defining the crime of aggression and setting out the conditions for the exercise of the Court´s jurisdiction. It is my sincere hope that the possibility of prosecuting acts of aggression may create a deterrent effect which ultimately may also lower the risk of genocide.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When we speak about genocide and other horrible crimes we are tempted to focus on the perpetratorsand their deeds. Unfortunately, the victims of genocide do not enjoy the same publicity.

However, we must not forget that all our efforts to combat genocide must serve the purpose of saving the victims. We must give a voice to those whose relatives were killed. We must listen to the stories of those who suffered serious bodily or mental harm. We must help those whose children were forcibly abducted. We must assist the victims in their efforts to receive reparations. In other words, we must place the victims at the centre of our struggle against genocide. They deserve our full attention and support.

With these thoughts, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to conclude this conference and to thank you all for participating. Allow me to express my special gratitude to the International Research and Documentation Centre for War Crimes Trials of the Philipps University in Marburg for its very commendable initiative in organizing this conference. I wish you all a safe trip home and a blessed christmas season.

Thank you very much!

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