From Sutures to Justice: Justice Must Heal the Wounds of War Crimes

MSF Calls on the Rome Conference to Take Action

Rome, June 16, 1998 — For twenty-five in hospitals on the front-line of the world's most difficult conflicts, the national and international relief workers of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has witnessed atrocities and suffering in civilians who have no hope of justice. Bandages and sutures cannot heal the wounds of these crimes. MSF is committed to a truly effective international justice system through an independent International Criminal Court and Prosecutor and national legal systems. However for such a Court to provide effective justice for civilians caught in conflict, several practical steps must be taken. MSF recommends:

Witnesses who testify to the ICC will often be risking their lives to do so. The Court must guarantee protection, which should include automatic rights of asylum for the individual and their family. In cases where a witness dies or "disappears" before appearing in court, the Court should accept earlier written statements as evidence.

Universal Jurisdiction & State Cooperation: It is vital that the obligation to cooperate with the Court takes precedence over national legislation. All governments must be compelled to carry out the directions of the Court.

An often forgotten aspect of the 1949 Geneva Convention, which almost all governments have ratified, is the obligation of all States to arrest and bring to justice war criminals under their own jurisdictions regardless of where the crime was committed. This obligation will not be negated by the creation of an ICC.

Deterrence & Compensation: The principle objective in creating the ICC is to deter those individuals intent on using crimes against humanity to further their political aims. Assets confiscated from criminals should be used to give financial compensation to victims.

Military personnel engaged in peace-keeping operations who witness atrocities (which they often do), must be compelled to testify. States or diplomatic immunity must not be allowed to prevent them from testifying. States and individuals must hand over "classified" documents, if requested by the Court.

"What we saw in Rwanda proved to us that our bandages, our sutures can never heal the deep wounds of Rwanda. What they need is justice. Thinking of the thousands of bodies and killings I had seen, I swore to myself that if there is a judicial system in the world, these people will pay for their crimes." (MSF's Dr. Rony Zachariah testifying before the Arusha Tribunal - January 1996)

MSF is the world's largest independent medical relief agency. MSF works in 80 countries world-wide, over 20 of which are in conflict.