Permanent Mission of Australia
to the United Nations
New York

11 April 2013 - Statement to the United Nations General Assembly

11 April 2013

The Role of International Criminal Justice and Reconciliation

Statement by Ms Julia O’Brien, First Secretary

Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations

(Check against delivery)



Mr President

Australia takes this opportunity to record its emphatic support for international criminal justice. My country is committed to upholding international criminal law in our own courts. We are committed to supporting the efforts of other jurisdictions to investigate and prosecute allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. And we are committed to supporting each of the international criminal courts and tribunals that have been established to ensure that those accused of committing serious international crimes are held to account.

Mr President

It is now widely recognised that, while timing can be important, without justice it is difficult to establish an inclusive and lasting peace. The contributions of international criminal justice to international peace and security are multifaceted. Accountability processes are a means for restoring dignity to victims by acknowledging their suffering and in this way empower victims to help rebuild their communities. Criminal law judgments protect against those who would seek to divide communities by denying that atrocities occurred. And the conviction of defendants has the capacity to deter would-be perpetrators from committing serious international crimes that can entrench conflicts.

Together with truth-seeking mechanisms and reparation programmes, criminal processes also play a critical role in reconciliation. By holding those most responsible to account, criminal processes minimise the opportunities for perpetrators to re engage in violence and defuse the motivation of victims to seek vengeance. As an important component of the re-establishment of the rule of law, the investigation and prosecution of international crimes guards against the emergence of an environment that condones major human rights violations and provides a mechanism for dispute resolution, which is essential to conflict prevention. As the Secretary-General has said, justice is crucial for breaking cycles of violence and fragility.

Of course, Australia recognises that the international community faces challenges in applying international criminal justice. Challenges such as ensuring that justice is perceived to be the norm rather than the exception, and securing the cooperation of international and regional organisations and States. We are, however, confident that together we will find solutions to these challenges.

Mr President

In our view, as we continue to build support for the International Criminal Court as the first permanent international criminal court, it is absolutely critical for the international community to support the ad hoc international and mixed tribunals through to the conclusion of their mandates.

In this context, Australia makes a special reference to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The ECCC is facing a budget crisis. While Australia understands that these are difficult economic times, we, the international community, must not let the people of Cambodia down. We call on all Member States to consider the gravity of the crimes being adjudicated and the expectation of the people of Cambodia that they will finally see justice for the crimes they have suffered, and urge States to take urgent action to ensure that the ECCC can complete its work.

Mr President

It is equally important to respect the judicial independence of the courts and tribunals and, in this context, to respect their judgments. Judicial independence requires judges to determine cases impartially and on their merits, in accordance with the law. Courts and tribunals, as public institutions, should not be immune from criticism. However, when criticism is excessive or motivated by dislike of the result of a decision without regard to judges’ underlying reasoning or the supporting law, such criticism undermines the independence of those judges and the rule of law. We take this opportunity to note that, for our part, Australia is committed to respecting and protecting the judicial independence of each of the international and mixed criminal courts and tribunals.

Mr President

In closing, let me emphasise that the key priorities of international criminal justice must be to serve the victims of serious international crimes and to help prevent the commission of such crimes in the future. It is important that discussions at the United Nations, under the authority of the President of the General Assembly and elsewhere, reflect this sober responsibility. It is what Member States expect and what the victims of serious international crimes deserve.

We listened carefully to the views expressed during yesterday’s discussion, but wish to put clearly on record that we do not share many of the views expressed. A broader range of views on the panels would have enriched the discourse. The victims of serious international crimes should have had a voice.