Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the German Bundestag on the coalition motion “War crimes and human rights violations must not go unpunished”

28.10.2020 - Speech

“To put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes” – this is how the Rome Statute formulates the goal that has since been pursued by the International Criminal Court.

Today, 20 years on from the signing of the Rome Statute, international criminal law has to my mind – and in spite of all the problems that we must face up to – achieved a great deal. I am thinking, for example, of the ground-breaking verdicts issued by the International Criminal Court and the International Criminal Tribunals for countries such as the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda. And as recently as August, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued an important verdict on the assassination of former Prime Minister al‑Hariri.

At the same time however, it is important to remember that we have also suffered numerous painful setbacks. Human rights and international law are regularly trampled underfoot by governments, armed groups and terrorists alike. Let me be quite frank: far too often, these crimes remain unpunished.

This is partly because three permanent members of the Security Council – the US, China and Russia – still do not recognise the International Criminal Court. In a very recent development, Washington has taken the step of imposing sanctions on representatives of the International Criminal Court. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, and is unquestionably a grave error that I hope will be rectified in due course.

Ladies and gentlemen, impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes is not just an affront to the victims; it is also a threat to peace: as we have learnt from numerous conflicts, justice is the key to lasting reconciliation and the stability that follows it.

For this reason, Germany is vigorously committed to holding perpetrators to account wherever we can: globally, within Europe, and increasingly here in our own country. Internationally, we are among the most active supporters of the International Criminal Court – politically, in terms of staffing, and also financially. We are equally supportive of the Special Tribunals, such as those for Lebanon and Kosovo.

And wherever we are constrained by impasses in the Security Council – such as in Syria, Iraq or Myanmar – we have, in cooperation with the United Nations, created mechanisms with which to gather evidence for future prosecutions. This is also the aim of the Alliance against Impunity, which we formed together with like-minded foreign ministers as part of the Alliance for Multilateralism, which now comprises more than 70 states. “You will not have to wait for justice forever” – this is our message to victims.

At the European level, we are working with our EU partners to establish a long-overdue global EU human rights sanctions regime.

This framework will enable us to take action against political leaders who terrorise, torture or imprison their own people. In the context of our Presidency of the EU Council, we intend to lay the legal groundwork to this end as soon as possible, before the end of this year.

Here in Germany, our courts and public prosecution offices are also leading by example. As of this year, two representatives of the Syrian regime are on trial for torture, murder and sexual violence before the Higher Regional Court in Koblenz for the first time ever. In addition, German courts have been trying IS terrorists for some time. These proceedings reinforce the principle of universal jurisdiction and encourage other states to prosecute crimes against international law at the national level.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is crucial; lamentably, it is no longer something we can take for granted.

For the sake of reconciliation and peace, we must put an end to impunity – this is the message of the Rome Statute, and it is the message of our motion today. We will continue to work towards this goal using all means at our disposal.

Thank you.


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