I would like to thank the organizers and co-hosts of this event for this opportunity today in New York to discuss the important and unfortunately all too relevant topic “Fight against Impunity for Atrocities.” I would like to thank our guests H.E. Ms. Bangura, Ms. Murad and Ms. Clooney for their tireless commitment to the cause and their moving testimonies which serve as a warning to us all.
Let me highlight three points: our concern for victims, the need to bring to justice the perpetrators of atrocities and the importance of preventing these crimes from reoccurring.
Nadia Murad and Amal Clooney have already spoken about the victims’ perspective on crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq. Supporting victims is one of the key tasks in the response to such atrocities. Germany – as one of the largest bilateral donors to Iraq – funds a multitude of activities in Iraq that support victims in their physical and psychological recovery. Additionally, Germany is hosting over 1,100 Yazidis as part of a custom-made humanitarian settlement program. We have worked closely with the Iraqi government to prioritize women and children victims of abduction and enslavement by ISIS.
My second point: bringing the perpetrators to justice in a post-conflict society is owed to the victims, and is also necessary for the onerous task of reconciliation. The international community has a duty to support such societies to the best of our abilities. In the case of Iraq, we believe it is key to look into the crimes committed by ISIS over the past few years first and to do so as comprehensively and expediently as possible.
Civil society also plays an important role in achieving accountability. In Iraq, we are supporting two NGOs which are gathering and protectiong evidence of these crimes.
We, the international community, can also contribute to the fight against impunity by acting at our own national level. In Germany, for example, prosecutors investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity under the principle of universal jurisdiction and on the basis of our International Criminal Code.
Since 2011, the Federal Public Prosecutor General has initiated investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria and Iraq. These investigations serve primarily to secure evidence for national or international criminal proceedings at a later stage. But the resulting files have also already led to various investigations into and charges against specific individuals who have been prosecuted for concrete war crimes in both Syria and Iraq.
Here, I would like to highlight two additional elements:
Regarding Syria: I would like to stress that apart from ISIS, the Syrian regime is the main perpetrator of the most horrible crimes in Syria, some of which likely constitute crimes against humanity. The German federal government supports referring the case to the ICC, but the resolution was vetoed in the Security Council in May 2014. Together with other countries, Germany has taken the lead in establishing the International Commission of Enquiry on Syria and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism. These institutions strive to gather and compile evidence of the atrocities committed in Syria on a daily basis.
Regarding Iraq: I would like to reiterate that the international community must do all it can to prevent a culture of impunity from taking hold regarding ISIS’ crimes. The Iraqi judicial system must take the lead role in this process.
However, we must not forget that, partially parallel to the ISIS terror regime, other groups in Iraq have also committed severe crimes against humanity.
And this brings me to my third point: we are convinced these efforts are essential in preventing new atrocities from occurring again in the future.
Transitional justice is therefore a substantive component of the Responsibility to Protect. We must punish perpetrators so we may come to terms with past abuses and make national reconciliation possible. And by doing so, ultimately prevent relapses into conflict and future mass atrocities.