Toespraak door minister van der Steur bij de EU dag tegen de straffeloosheid van internationale misdrijven

Toespraak door minister van der Steur (VenJ) bij de EU dag tegen de straffeloosheid van internationale misdrijven op 23 mei in Den Haag. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Many thanks to Ms Coninsx, and to Eurojust. Eurojust’s role as co-organizer and host of the first EU day against impunity is highly appreciated.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me extend a heartfelt welcome to all of you, here in The Hague, legal capital of the world. As we have just seen during the impressive opening video; we have gathered today to discuss some of the most atrocious crimes known to the world, such as murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, forcible transfers of populations. All committed on large scale. Crimes which have an enormous impact on their victims. And it is exactly because of the severe atrocity of these crimes, and the impact on the victims, that a firm and adequate response is required.

I would like to take this moment to thank the co-organizers of today’s event; The European Commission, The European Genocide Network, and of course, Eurojust. In the aftermath of World War II, states have become conscious of the necessity and urgency of international criminal law, and the need to prosecute and punish perpetrators of international crimes such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

For the first time during the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, later followed by the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia, and of course with the creation of the first permanent international criminal court. But of course, this necessity is also reflected in the national prosecutions for international crimes, one of the topics of today’s event.

Ladies and gentleman, to paraphrase the esteemed United Nations Secretary General Mr Ban Ki-moon; the development of international criminal law has helped us to transit from the old age of impunity……… to the present age of accountability. It is primarily the responsibility of states to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of international crimes.

International criminal courts and tribunals are often set up as courts of last resort, and are not able to prosecute ALL violations of international criminal law. Our message today is clear: the EU does not want to be a safe haven for perpetrators of atrocious crimes. Victims deserve our protection. This requires a vigilant attitude by all agencies and institutions involved.

Let me illustrate this by an example from the Netherlands.

In 2003, a suspect was arrested in the Netherlands on the suspicion of having committed acts of torture in what was then called Zaïre, and present day Democratic Republic of Congo. A torture-victim of this perpetrator, living in the Netherlands, had recognized him as the so called ‘King of Beasts’. The exposed Zairean was convicted to a prison sentence in the Netherlands. The criminal investigation, initiated in the Netherlands, was made possible through the process of screening during the asylum procedure. This screening revealed the suspicion that this man may have been involved in the commission of international crimes. His asylum request was subsequently denied.

This case shows that where possible, a multidisciplinary approach, making use of different instruments and bodies of law can be most effective. In preventing our countries from becoming safe havens for perpetrators of core international crimes.

Another example I want to mention today is the creation of the European Genocide Network. A network of contact persons from European Union Member States who focus on the investigation and prosecution of core international crimes. Bringing these practitioners together into a network has led to many successes and useful insights.  These insights have resulted in the drafting of the Network Strategy, which has been endorsed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council in its conclusions of June 2015. Today’s EU day against impunity for core international crimes originates from this Strategy of the Genocide Network.

The question remains; how do we organize the investigation and prosecution of core international crimes? And how can we be more successful in these matters? I dare to say that we are on the right path.

To give you some examples: In many EU countries prosecutions and trials have started regarding the genocide that had taken place in the 1990’s in Rwanda. Additionally, today we see trials taking place against individuals who are suspected of having committed international crimes in Iraq and Syria.

Of course, bringing suspects of these complex crimes to justice is not easy. We are dealing with cases that require a great amount of perseverance. Especially when they concern crimes that are said to haven taken place in conflict regions.

Therefore, it is important to take note of the fact that even in 2016, trials are taking place with regard to crimes committed during the Second World War. Statutes of limitations do not apply to these crimes. This means that we will not rest until, some way or the other, perpetrators of these crimes have been held to account before a court of law.

As I mentioned earlier, the investigation and prosecution of these crimes is often very complex. That is why the creation of Specialized International Crimes Units, as already provided for in several EU countries, can be of great help. These are cases that can be described as 'cold cases on a global scale', with crimes often having been committed long ago, far away from here, and during times of war.

In other words, international cooperation in this subject matter is of utmost importance. The complexity of these criminal investigations is one of the reasons why the Netherlands has started an initiative to come to a new multilateral treaty on extradition and mutual legal assistance concerning international crimes. Together with Belgium, Argentina and Slovenia. To my understanding information about this initiative has already been made available to you. We look forward to start drafting and negotiating on the treaty text shortly. That is why I call upon all the people present here today to support this initiative in any way you can.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, our ambitions are high. We are dealing with heavy and complicated cases.

I trust that the European Commission, The European Union Member States, The Genocide Network, and Eurojust, will remain dedicated to put this message into practice in the years to come.  

Many thanks especially  to the government of Malta, which has already expressed its willingness to co-organize this event next year, during its presidency of the European Union.

I will now pass on the stage to the esteemed Commissioner of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Ms Vera Jourova, who unfortunately could not be with us in person, but has been so kind to prepare a video message.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish a you all a fruitful and interesting day.