Prosecution of war crimes at Sierra Leone are taking center stage at the sixth annual International Humanitarian Law Dialogues, which began Sunday with a welcome dinner at the Robert H. Jackson Center.
The dialogs, which began in 2007, have become a gathering place for some of the most prominent prosecutors in the world. Sunday's welcome dinner began with the congregation meeting in front of the Robert H. Jackson Center to congratulate Fatou Bensouda on her recent promotion to the position of chief prosecutor in the International Criminal Court. As the center has done with all previous chief prosecutors, a brick was made bearing Bensouda's name to be placed in the walkway leading to the building.
A brick was also laid for Norman Farrell, the newly appointed chief prosecutor of the Special Tribunal of Lebanon, although he was not able to attend the event due to previous obligations.
From left are chief prosecutors from international courts and tribunals spanning outside the Robert H. Jackson?Center on Sunday. They are visiting for the sixth annual Humanitarian Law Dialogues, which continue today.
P-J?photo by Ryan Atkins
"I think it is truly a unique opportunity for prosecutors from all around the world to be able to gather for this," Bensouda said. "It is up to us to advance the course of international criminal justice. The golden days of impunity for criminals are over. We should not and must not be content with what we have accomplished because there is much more that must be done. We need to focus on the millions of victims who continue to suffer from these crimes."
Following the ceremony outside, the prosecutors and guests, including William Caming, one of only two surviving prosecutors from the Nuremberg trials, were taken into the Jackson Center for dinner and a presentation of the third annual Joshua Heintz Humanitarian Award. This year's recipient, Cherif Bassiouni, is an emeritus professor of law at DePaul University and is often called "the Father of International Criminal Law."
"I think that people can rest easy knowing that there are so many people making sure that justice is served," Bassiouni said during his acceptance speech. "These tasks are lonely tasks, difficult tasks. You're left to grapple with many moral and practical issues. One of the great advantages of meeting like this is that it brings together so many like-minded individuals and gives us the strength to continue. It recharges our batteries. There is nothing more important in the service of God and the service of mankind than the service of justice."
After the awards ceremony, a special panel discussion was held with David Crane, Sir Desmond de Silva, Branda Hollis and Stephen Rapp, all of whom were chief prosecutors for the Special Court of Sierra Leone. The discussion, titled "Hybrid International Courts: A 10th Anniversary Retrospective on the Special Court for Sierra Leone," focused on the trials and tribulations faced by the chief prosecutors while they tried those who bore the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law.
Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was the most taxing of all of the cases, due to it's sensitive nature, as well as the multiple delays that the trial faced. recently however, Taylor was found guilty of all 11 charges levied by the Special Court and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
"In order to have true peace, you have to have true justice," said Crane.
De Silva continued, "The legacy of this is a message. It doesn't matter how powerful they become or how mighty they are, it is only if these criminals are answerable and brought to be accountable that mankind will have an easier time dealing with the monsters that we've seen throughout history."
The International Humanitarian Dialogs will continue today and end Tuesday with the issuance of the 2012 Chautauqua Declaration. For more information, contact Debra Pacos, development coordinator of the Robert H. Jackson Center, at 483-6646. All events are open to the public at no charge. There is a charge for meals.