The Slovenia Times

Ljubljana hosts talks on key atrocities prosecution treaty

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A diplomatic conference to adopt a convention on international cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes opens in Ljubljana.
Photo: Anže Malovrh/STA

Representatives of some 70 countries gathered in Ljubljana on 15 May for a two-week conference in a bid to finalise what is considered to be the first key international treaty on prosecution of atrocities since the 1998 Rome Statute.

Running until 26 May, this is the biggest diplomatic conference Slovenia has ever hosted, bringing together some 300 experts in international public law and international criminal law from 71 countries supporting the initiative.

The convention on international cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes will seek to address legal vacuums in investigation and prosecution of international atrocities.

Cooperation key to successful prosecution

In the prosecution of atrocities, international cooperation and the legal framework allowing this cooperation are key, Marko Rakovec, head of the Directorate for International Law and Protection of Interests at Slovenia's Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, has told the STA.

"This is not in place at the moment, therefore I see the MLA convention as the key international treaty in international criminal law, second only to the Rome Statute," said Rakovec, referring to the Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition (MLA) Initiative, which was established by the Netherlands, Belgium and Slovenia in 2011, and later joined by Argentina, Senegal and Mongolia.

The main issue in the adoption of the convention will be whether signatories will be obligated to incriminate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the same way this is the case with the Rome Statute.

The document will be called the Ljubljana-Hague Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of the Crime of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, referring to the Ljubljana conference, and the first meeting of experts in the Hague in 2011 that led to the creation of the MLA initiative.

The initiative is independent from the UN. "The problem is that international treaties in the UN are adopted by consensus. As long as an initiative is blocked by some countries, it cannot make headway in the UN," said Rakovec.

The initiative is also not connected to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which means that it can be signed by countries which are not signatories of the Rome Statute. At the moment, the document enjoys the support of almost 80 countries, including all EU members.

Push to end impunity

Opening the conference along with Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Labib, Dutch Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius and ICC judge Kimberly Prost, Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon and Justice Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan expressed confidence in the conference's success.

"The key to our success is to strengthen cooperation and political will of countries to investigate and prosecute the most serious international crimes," said Fajon.

"Three decades ago we witnessed horrible crimes in our immediate vicinity and we deeply understand the role justice plays in ending disagreements, reconciliation and healing the deep wounds of individuals and societies," she said.

Fajon noted prosecution of sexual crimes as one of the priorities, especially in the time of armed combats. "Armies and militias use sexual violence as a war tactic. That is why we must ensure that the deep wounds of victims heal by ensuring justice," she said, adding that "victims must be heard".

Švarc Pipan made an appeal for enhancing efforts to "end impunity and bring perpetrators to justice" and establishing effective systems of support and protection for children.

The current framework of international criminal law is outdated and imperfect, said Dutch Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius. "This makes the fight against impunity harder," she added.

There is no multilateral legal framework for a stronger cooperation in prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international atrocities, noted Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, who is chairing the conference.

Definitions of criminal offences and the complexity of their integration in the convention will be the main challenges of the conference, as well as the precise definition of steps in cooperation between countries, Fernandez de Gurmendi said.

"The convention is not just an agreement but a real change in our cooperation," said Anselmo Tettamanti, state secretary at the Argentinian Foreign Ministry. "The end goal is not only to end impunity but to stop these crimes from happening ever again," he added.

ICC judge Kimberly Prost praised the current draft of the convention. "It reflects the best practice that has developed in recent years. In the name of the ICC, I can say with certainty that we strongly support this initiative," she said.

Once the wording is agreed the convention will be open for signing. The Slovenian government has already adopted an initiative to do so.

The adoption celebration will be in The Hague. This will be followed by ratification by the signatories. The Netherlands will serve as a depository for the convention.

On the sidelines of the Ljubljana conference, an event will be held on 22 May to mark the 8th EU Day Against Impunity, featuring European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.


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