Morality, impunity and the International Criminal Court

Morality, impunity and the International Criminal Court

Chuo-Koron: The International Tribunal and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are great ideas. But at the moment, Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor can be tried, but not George W Bush, nor Tony Blair, nor Henry Kissinger. How can we eliminate this double standard, and make these institutions international in their true sense?

Martti AhtisaariMartti Ahtisaari: First of all, I think we have to get all the countries to join these institutions and accept their jurisdiction. Of course, we haven’t had any conflicts inside the United States that should demand the action of the… But I see your point. I think it’s important that we get started, and hopefully we advance so that no one escapes if we need to take people to the International Court.

Mary RobinsonMary Robinson: And if I could just say, in the context of the Great Lakes, it was really significant that one of the people who was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, Bosco Ntaganda, actually entered Rwanda and went to the US Embassy. And it was the US Embassy, with the support of the government of Rwanda, that handed him over. He actually asked to be handed over to The Hague, because he was afraid of being killed otherwise. When I was there, everybody talked about it, so the fact that the ICC is there is actually very useful, very important.

Martti Ahtisaari: It’s preventive already.

Mary Robinson: Yes, yes.

Henry Kissinger said, “The average person thinks morality can be applied to the conduct of states as directly as towards individuals. But that is not always the case, because sometimes a statesman must choose among evils.” Also, President Richard Nixon famously said, “If the President does it, that means it’s not illegal. If it’s secret, it’s legal.”

What are your thoughts on this disparity between individual morality and government morality? In fact, one can be sentenced to life in jail for killing one person, whereas someone else can kill thousands under the name of a ‘just war’.

Mary RobinsonMary Robinson: Well, as a human rights person, I’ve always felt that we tolerate far too much impunity; we don’t deal well with major crises that create huge deaths of individuals. I think it is the case that there is too much realpolitik in diplomacy, and not enough holding to account. Now more and more, as power is shifting to the corporate sector, it’s going to be extraordinarily important that we hold corporations to account.

Our new Chair, Kofi Annan, has just published a report with the Africa Progress Panel on the extractive industries in Africa – in particular, in the Great Lakes – showing the complicity with corporations and political figures. So I think we just need to be more rigorous, address issues of impunity and have less of a double standard, as you say.

I opposed very strongly – as High Commissioner for Human Rights and afterwards – the war in Iraq, very publicly. And even in my last year, which was the year after 9/11, I held the United States to account for failing to observe its own commitments under the covenants on civil and political rights and the Convention against Torture.

It was a little bit lonely – there weren’t too many voices – but for me, it was essential, because if you have double standards, you undermine the morality and integrity of human rights.

Martti AhtisaariMartti Ahtisaari: First of all, I think it’s important that we get away from unilateral actions. We are not talking any more of humanitarian intervention. I think there was a very positive development when, for the first time, the General Assembly decision of 2005 – the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ – was utilised by the Security Council in the case of Libya. It was the first time that the international community used that decision. Because if leaders misbehave, then the international community has a responsibility to do something about it, and not simply look aside.

Let’s see when the next decision of the Security Council will come, because it may take some time. This was the first attempt but I thought that that was a historic thing as such, and hopefully we can get decisions before interventions take place.

So the less the disparity between the individual and public, the better. That’s the way to go…?

Martti Ahtisaari: I think we have a long way to go to get the ‘individual morality’ in its place.


Lessons in ethical leadership

Chuo-Koron: According to the annual survey of Transparency International, the least corrupt nations are Denmark, Finland and New Zealand – and Sweden and Norway are also ranked among the least. On the other hand, poor nations like Somalia, North Korea, Sudan, Myanmar and Afghanistan ranked as the most corrupt nations.

Why did the Scandinavian countries succeed in getting rid of corruption? You mentioned that Nordic countries have particular responsibilities in mediating between countries in conflict. Why?

Martti AhtisaariMartti Ahtisaari: First of all, when I look at the world today – I tend to say this when I simplify – I say that we don’t need raw capitalism in today’s world; we don’t need any sort of socialism. We need responsible market economies, which we have developed in Nordic societies as a responsible welfare model. It has taken us a long, long time.

We are very small societies; my own country is 5.3 or 5.4 million in population. But it’s also important, and I would draw a lesson from the Nordics. The first lesson from Nordic countries: that we have accepted… all of us – even if some political groups weren’t thriving – egalitarian policies in our society. We have good education, good health care, etc.

And I think it is important that we not only pay attention in the world to how well the elections are organised, but also to what those who come to power do with their power. Are they actually running, using the growth that the country may have to improve the educational system for all – and particularly to get girls a proper education? If the egalitarian policies are not carried out, then it easily leads to conflicts inside the countries as well, because people feel that they have totally been forgotten.

So leadership is very crucial…

Martti Ahtisaari: It’s the leadership.

As the first female President of Ireland (1990-1997), you have made many, many breakthroughs, such as paying tribute to the people in Belfast in Northern Ireland, which was unheard of; visiting Queen Elizabeth II, the first time for an Irish President after 800 years of bitter memories of colonisation; and also visiting Somalia and Rwanda, and bringing the world’s attention to those neglected areas.

Why do you think you could do what nobody else could? How did you deal with criticism, disappointment, and resistance towards your work?

Mary RobinsonMary Robinson: [Laughter] I think I was quite fortunate at the time. I was elected in 1990; Ireland was becoming more prosperous. I had been identified with opening up Irish society, changing our laws to have more diversity and pluralism. And at the same time, some of my issues would have been ones that people in Ireland – a lot of conservative people – might not have supported.

So my election, in a way, affirmed that Ireland was a more open society; it had a signal. And being a woman, I felt very strongly that I could do it differently, more proactively, than the six presidents before me who had been rather elderly men, and who had been eminent. But the presidency was sort of a reward for eminence and not very proactive.

And I was very committed to the promises I made in my inauguration address, and one of them was in fact to try to represent an Irish concern for human rights. And I remember on my inauguration day, saying to myself, “How am I going to do that? What do I mean?” you know, “I’ve said I’m going to…” And, as it happened, there were a lot of Irish aid agencies in Somalia, and they said the situation was desperate, in 1992, because there are fighting warlords and the food can’t get to Baidoa and Mogadishu, etc. And if I could come as President and go to the United Nations, that would make a big difference. And that was my first time going in that way.

I was then the first Head of State to go to Rwanda in 1994. I went back in 1995, because I was asked to represent Ireland at the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, and I knew that that would be rhetorical speeches, praising, etc., and I wanted to bring Rwanda to the table – the post-genocidal society – and the hinterland now in Goma and beyond. And the interesting thing was that my third invitation to Rwanda was to a pan-African women’s conference. So all of these things influenced me, and these are very relevant to what I’m doing now.

I remember a particularly significant state visit to Japan because it was just after the Kobe earthquake, and we almost thought that the visit would be postponed. The imperial family used my state visit to come out after the earthquake. It was really very interesting. And the Empress had been educated by Sacred Heart nuns as I was, and I had met her before – we had a kind of link. But it was really interesting to help Japan to come out of the trauma of that terrible earthquake, and to hear some of the stories and the commitment, etc. And I know Japan has recently gone through an even worse trauma… But I thought that there was great resilience, and I was very affected by that visit. It was also a very good trade visit, I have to say [laughs], between Ireland and Japan.

This is the first of a two-part interview with Martti Ahtisaari and Mary Robinson, carried out by Japanese current affairs magazine Chuo-Koron. We will post part two in February 2014 – follow @TheElders on Twitter to receive all the latest updates.

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