Speech by Minister of Justice and Security d Grapperhaus at the EU Day against Impunity

Speech by Minister of Justice and Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus at the EU Day against Impunity, 23 May 2019.

Ladies and gentlemen,

thanking you all for being part of this important meeting, the fourth EU Day against Impunity for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. And a special thanks to the Romanian EU Council Presidency and Eurojust for hosting this event and inviting me to speak.

Let me start by saying that your timing is immaculate. As you may know, the current Dutch cabinet has made promises to do all in its power to ensure that the crimes of ISIS will not go unpunished.

It is on this very day that the Dutch cabinet takes a concrete step to fulfil this promise. I am honoured to announce to you that, at the opening of the next General Assembly, the Netherlands will initiate a ministerial meeting on the persecution of ISIS perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes. Our aim will be to bring them to trial in the very region where these crimes were committed. We want to do so under the jurisdiction of an Ad hoc or Hybrid International Criminal Tribunal.

As we speak, my colleague Foreign Minister minister Blok is in New York, rallying the support of Security Council members and others to join us on this road towards justice. 

Let me be chrystal-clear about the ambition of the Dutch cabinet. First: enable the Security Council to clearly state that ISIS committed genocide against the Yezidi. Then: fact finding, evidence gathering, investigation, attribution. And finally: prosecution.

We choose to prosecute in the region because the people who suffered at the hands of ISIS war criminals must be able to witness first-hand that justice is done. That realization must sink in, unequivocally. It is the prerequisite of lasting peace and security in the region. The violence, brutality, and sadism were omnipresent, from the lowest levels of the ISIS organisation upwards. The victims and witnesses of these heinous must be heard. They must be able to see for themselves that the horrors they suffered will not go unpunished.

I urge you all to join forces to right these wrongs, as much as is still possible.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn from actuality towards history. Because it was also on this very date, on the 23rd May of 1960, that the world learned that Adolf Eichmann had been captured. A German national living in Argentina. He stood trial in Israel for crimes perpetrated throughout Europe. After many years of him roaming free and living a quiet life in South America, justice finally caught up to him. The international character of this case is something we encounter every day when dealing with these inhumane acts.

Genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes; they are  the most heinous crimes known to mankind: Fighting impunity for these crimes concerns the international community as a whole. So it requires the attention of the European Union and all its member states, and of every other country in the world.

It is up to us to make sure that these perpetrators do not find a safe haven in the EU. By and large, I would say we are on the right track. The adoption of the Rome Statute, more than 20 years ago, was an important milestone in the fight against impunity. However, I don’t need to remind you that the ICC is a court of last resort and that states are still the primary actors in this fight.

In order to investigate and prosecute such crimes national authorities need the right expertise and tools.  Where expertise is concerned, there’s a key role for the EU Genocide Network, which meets every six months, bringing together prosecutors, police officers and justice officials who deal with these crimes. These meetings allow states to share experiences, know-how and best practices which can save valuable time and resources.

But states also need the right legal tools to investigate and prosecute these crimes. Unfortunately, our current tools are inadequate and outdated.

For transnational organised crime and corruption, we have state-of-the-art, widely ratified multilateral treaties like UNTOC and UNCAC.

But when it comes to genocide and war crimes, we generally have to make do with the 1948 Genocide Convention and the Geneva conventions of 1949. These treaties contain only limited – and largely outdated – provisions for mutual legal assistance and extradition, if any at all.

For crimes against humanity the situation is even worse, as we have no general multilateral treaty dealing with these crimes at all.

The perpetrators of most serious international crimes are not stopped by international borders. The example of Eichmann I mentioned is just one example, but there are many more. What to think of that other famous Nazi Joseph Mengele who, unlike Eichmann, was never brought to justice for the crimes he committed?
The current legal framework still leaves loopholes for a modern day Mengele. I’m sure that each state represented here today has examples of cases where effective prosecution was impeded by our inadequate system for international cooperation on these matters.

In the Netherlands, we have first-hand experience of the complex and international nature of investigating and prosecuting core international crimes. And of how difficult that can be if the proper tools aren’t in place. Nicole Vogelenzang, the head of the International Crimes Unit within the National Prosecution Office will undoubtedly mention several of these cases in the panel discussion later today.

Crimes committed in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Iraq, Sri Lanka have shown us one thing: there is a strong need for a new multilateral treaty to facilitate international cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of core international crimes.

I’m therefore proud to say that the Netherlands has joined forces with Argentina, Belgium, Mongolia, Senegal and Slovenia to create such a treaty: the Multilateral Treaty for Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition for the Domestic Prosecution of the Most Serious International Crimes, more commonly known as the MLA initiative. 

Compared with the current patchwork of bilateral agreements, this initiative aims to provide a modern and uniform approach for all states dealing with these matters.

Two months ago the Second Preparatory Conference on the MLA Initiative was hosted in the Netherlands. Fifty supporting States and various representatives of civil society and practitioners discussed the Preliminary Draft Treaty.

We are currently working hard to revise the treaty, taking into account the comments that were made before and during the Second Preparatory Conference.

We believe that the adoption of the MLA treaty would not only bridge the gap in the international legal framework for mutual legal assistance and extradition for the most serious crimes, but is also in line with the complementarity principle of the ICC.

Furthermore, we strongly feel that adopting this instrument would send a crucial message, as it would reaffirm the international community’s commitment to fighting impunity for these heinous crimes.

I call on all states that are not yet supporting the initiative to sign up and help improve interstate cooperation in fighting the most serious international crimes. Help us prevent that the Mengeles of our time can escape justice. Together, but only together, can we ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes can be held accountable.

Because, if I may conclude with the words of Cicero, ‘The greatest incitement to guilt is the hope of sinning with impunity.’

So let’s join forces and dash that hope.

Let’s all stand up for justice and security.
Thank you.