Address to the Workshop for the Universality of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and the Kampala Amendments on the Crime of Aggression in the Pacific Region
It’s a pleasure to be invited to open this Workshop today.
On behalf of the New Zealand Government, I welcome all the international participants to New Zealand, and to Auckland.
It’s great to see you here.
As Minister of Justice my focus – and that of my Government – is to ensure New Zealand has a high performing justice system which delivers justice to all New Zealanders efficiently and effectively.
As you are aware, there are significant parallels between domestic justice and international criminal justice. This morning I will highlight a few of these parallels to provide some useful context to your discussions over the next two days.
The best starting point for considering domestic justice or international criminal justice is the rule of law – everyone is subject to the law, and the law must serve everyone.
It’s a fundamental part of any society that all citizens be bound by the same laws which are properly administered by the courts. This key principle is as relevant to the International Criminal Court as it is to a domestic court.
It is this very principle that drives the push for the universality of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is also why the Rome Statute should have the widest possible participation.
Perpetrators of the most serious international crimes - war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide - should not be able to escape accountability and evade international justice. Countries that have not signed up to the Rome Statute create potential loopholes in the fight against impunity.
That is why New Zealand supports the universality of the Rome Statute and that is why we are promoting its ratification in the wider Pacific region.
Through membership to the International Criminal Court, countries demonstrate their commitment to accountability and the rule of law. Widespread adoption of the Rome Statute can also help to prevent serious international crimes in the future.
It’s critical that the law is accessible, easy to understand, and transparent.
As well as being done, it is equally important that ‘justice must be seen to be done’. Those involved in the justice sector - government, Parliament and the courts - must have the trust and confidence of the general public if society is to function well.
Transparency is also an integral part of the international criminal justice system. Many of you will be aware of the challenges the International Criminal Court has faced over the past year – particularly from African countries concerned over perceptions that Africa has been unfairly targeted by the Court.
The Assembly of States Parties – or essentially the “Parliament” of the International Criminal Court – has responded to this challenge by ensuring there was an open dialogue on these issues.
The States Parties are also taking steps to amend the Court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence. New Zealand supports this approach.
The States Parties have the political and legislative responsibility to help ensure the Court and the system of international criminal justice is effective.
New Zealand believes a justice system should respond and adapt to the needs and expectations of those it serves.
For an international criminal justice tool to be effective it must balance the rights, needs, and interests of defendants, victims, member States and the public.
The action by the States Parties shows the international community takes seriously the concerns of some of its members.
The third parallel between domestic justice and international criminal justice I would like to mention is the importance of judicial independence.
New Zealand views judicial independence as crucial to our governance structures and to our concept of the rule of law. The very concept of the rule of law is protected by an independent judiciary.
Today the judicial system – both domestic and international – operates in a modern environment where information flows faster than ever before. Demands of judges and critiques of judicial decisions are quickly voiced by victims, academics and members of the public.
It’s important this information flows openly to encourage greater debate and allows judges to receive feedback from the people they serve.
This Workshop provides a vehicle for the open flow of information between experts, officials and representatives of civil society in the wider Pacific region.
I’m very pleased to welcome all the Workshop’s speakers and participants to Auckland, especially Judge Song, the President of the International Criminal Court, and Tuiloma Neroni Slade, former judge of the International Criminal Court.
I particularly welcome the participants from the wider Pacific region too. Some of you will be relatively new to the Rome Statute. Others may be more familiar with the Rome Statute and interested in the Kampala Amendments on the crime of aggression.
Given the history of the Pacific region, the illegal use of force contrary to the United Nations Charter has particular resonance.
The Kampala Amendments, once ratified and in force, will enable the leaders of countries that have committed acts of aggression to be held to account for their actions before a permanent international criminal court.
This Workshop will provide information and guidance to countries in considering ratification of the Rome Statute and the Kampala Amendments and to debate the issues facing the International Criminal Court in an open and transparent manner.
There is one further parallel between a system of domestic justice and international criminal justice I’d like to highlight.
In New Zealand we are developing innovative approaches to justice which extend beyond the traditional judicial system based on access to courts.
These include restorative justice programmes which see the victim and offender coming face-to-face as part of a restorative process for those involved.
Restorative justice focuses on redressing the harm done to victims, while holding offenders to account and engaging the community in the resolution of conflict.
In the wider Pacific region there are systems of justice which are grounded in the culture of the country concerned and based on principles of restorative justice.
One example is the Samoan cultural practice of ifoga, or the traditional practice of seeking forgiveness and rendering a formal public apology following a physical injury to another. The courts of Samoa may have regard to this cultural practice as a mitigating factor in sentencing. This does not, of course, detract from the principle of accountability. The courts are empowered to use their discretion in a manner that reflects the needs and culture of its people.
With respect to the international criminal justice system, New Zealand supports not only the International Criminal Court but also sees the real value and sense of alternatives to formal judicial processes, such as truth and reconciliation commissions.
In our region, the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation undertook truth seeking and reconciliation by engaging with individuals, families and community groups from all sides of the conflict, and at all levels of society.
The international community has increasingly engaged Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, as well as other community-level approaches to justice. These initiatives can contribute greatly to longer lasting peace and stability.
The value of innovative approaches does not detract from the importance of the International Criminal Court. Rather, these approaches highlight that the International Criminal Court is a court of last resort and is complementary to domestic judicial proceedings.
One of the questions you will address at this Workshop will be why an international criminal justice system is relevant to the Pacific. What is the relevance of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression to the Pacific? How does an international criminal justice system fit with the system of justice in the Pacific?
I believe the answers lie in the parallels between the domestic justice and international criminal justice systems that I have highlighted.
By being a party to the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court, States from the broader Pacific region can be involved in a significant international institution, rather than observing from the side-lines. It helps to ensure that the Pacific voice is heard on the international stage.
New Zealand is committed to the International Criminal Court and to enabling it to grow as a fully effective international criminal justice mechanism. I am sure this Workshop and your discussions will be an important step in achieving this goal.
It is my pleasure now to open the Workshop.