posted on Mon 11 Aug 2014 5:41 PM
Dispatches from the Field: Security Council Meetings in The Hague

The Hague – On Monday (11 August), Council members focused on justice and accountability issues as they engaged with representatives of the various international legal institutions headquartered in The Hague. They also received an update on the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is also located in this city.

Council members went to the Peace Palace, home to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Philippe Couvreur, the Registrar of the ICJ, introduced them to the President of the Court, Peter Tomka (Slovakia), and other ICJ judges, including Joan Donoghue (US), Giorgio Gaja (Italy), Christopher Greenwood (UK) and Julia Sebutinde (Uganda).

During the first meeting of the day, ICJ President Tomka provided Council members with a historical overview of the Court, which was followed by an interactive session between Council members and the ICJ judges, co-chaired by Chile and Luxembourg. The discussion focused on the work of the ICJ and the challenges of achieving international acceptance of its advisory opinions and the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. It was noted that currently only about one-third of UN member states accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court and that increasing the number of member states accepting its compulsory jurisdiction would strengthen the international justice system. It was also observed that the ICJ’s emphasis on conflict prevention and the peaceful settlement of disputes overlaps with the work of the Security Council. One of the judges further argued that the annual budget of the ICJ is only about $25 million, and that the Court thus represents a cost-effective way of doing conflict prevention.

The ICJ’s relationship with the Council was also discussed. The Council is able to request advisory opinions and its powers under Article 36 allow it to recommend legal disputes to the Court while under Article 94 the Council, upon the request of one party, may make recommendations or decide on measures to give effect to an ICJ judgment in case of non-compliance. However, the only example of the Council recommending two parties to settle their dispute before the Court was on 9 April 1947, when it recommended that Albania and the UK immediately refer their dispute in relation to the Corfu Channel incident (S/RES/22). The Council has requested an advisory opinion on one occasion, on 29 July 1970, regarding the legal consequences of South Africa’s continued presence in Namibia.

During the second session of the morning, Council members had a discussion with the principals of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), and the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL). In addition to Council members, participants included: Judge Theodor Meron (President of the ICTY and the MICT); Judge David Baragwanath (President of the STL); Hassan B. Jallow, (Prosecutor of the MICT); John Hocking (Registrar of the ICTY); Michelle Jarvis (Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTY); Norman Farrell (Prosecutor of the STL); Daryl Mundis (Registrar of the STL); Francois Roux (Head of the Defence Office of the STL); and Ms. Binta Mansaray (Acting Registrar of the RSCSL).

The principals of the different tribunals at the discussion presented an overview of their work. The presentations primarily focused on how these tribunals function and what challenges they face. One overarching observation was that the tribunals face financial constraints, particularly as some of them are funded through voluntary contributions. There was also a discussion of the length of time that it takes for tribunals to complete their work. In this respect, one of the judges commented that the necessity of due process and fairness in legal proceedings often takes time, even though it may create tension with the desirability for cases to take place expeditiously. Some members of the Council were particularly interested in the update on the work of the STL, as the Council does not regularly receive briefings on this particular tribunal.

In the afternoon, Council members met with three representatives of the International Criminal Court (ICC): President Judge Sang-Hyun Song, Registrar Herman von Hevel and Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart. Some Council members highlighted the importance of cooperation between the Security Council and the ICC, while others argued that the ICC’s work should be independent from the Council’s work because the Council is a political body. One Council member argued in favour of greater cooperation between the ICC and the sanctions committees that are mandated by the Council. During the meeting, one of the ICC officials underscored that informal meetings could be used as a way of enhancing communication between the Council and the Court.

Some issues that may have been of interest to Council members were the status of the situations on the Court’s docket including, among others, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, the DRC, in particular the two situations referred to the ICC by the Council – Sudan and Libya – as well as reports of a possible Palestinian request to the Court to investigate the Israel/Gaza situation. Some members may have been interested in following up ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s call during her 17 June briefing to the Council for a “thorough, independent and public inquiry” into allegations that the AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur reporting had been manipulated “with the intentional effect of covering up crimes committed against civilians and peacekeepers”.

In the final meeting at the Peace Palace, Council members were briefed by OPCW officials—including Deputy Director General Grace Asirwatham, Chef de Cabinet Bob Fairweather and Malik Ellahi, head of the political affairs branch— on the status of the Organisation’s work in Syria. Council members expressed gratitude for the OPCW’s efforts in Syria, while OPCW officials described the progress that has been made in dismantling the country’s chemical weapons program. Some members also emphasised the responsibility of Syria to cooperate with resolution 2118.

On the way to the airport, Council members met briefly with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte at his offices. He noted The Hague’s role as the capital of international justice and said that he valued the Council’s visit to the Netherlands. Referring to the 17 July downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, he expressed his gratitude to the Council for its adoption of resolution 2166 and referred briefly to the investigation at the crash site. Prior to leaving The Hague, Council members laid a wreath at an MH17 remembrance room at Schiphol airport to commemorate the victims. The Netherlands lost 193 nationals on that flight, which also claimed the lives of 37 citizens of Australia, a current elected member of the Council.