June 26, 2019

Judge Carmel Agius reflects on his role and priorities as President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals

I am delighted to return to The Hague for another tour of action, this time as the President of the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (Mechanism), the successor institution to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

It has been a challenging and rewarding few months for me in my new role, since taking over the leadership of the Mechanism on 19 January 2019. The Mechanism is a unique institution, with branches in Arusha, Tanzania as well as The Hague, and staff working in different time zones. Moreover, our focus is split equally between the residual judicial matters arising out of two very different conflicts, namely the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the conflicts during the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia.

These residual responsibilities do not merely mean completing pre-existing cases while intensifying the search for the final ICTR fugitives, though no one doubts the importance of these core functions. Our mandate also focuses on protecting the thousands of victims and witnesses who provided evidence to the Tribunals or the Mechanism, lending assistance to national jurisdictions upon request, supervising the enforcement of sentences of convicted persons, and preserving and managing the archives of these institutions.

I already knew of these unique circumstances before assuming the Presidency, of course, because I have been a Judge of the Mechanism since its inception in 2012, and was a Judge of the ICTY for many years before that. Nevertheless, I have been amazed at the extent to which the Mechanism differs from its predecessor institutions. Fortunately, my experience as the final President of the ICTY helped me to hit the ground running as soon as I assumed the Presidency of the Mechanism earlier this year.

This is an important time for the international rule of law, and I am both honoured and humbled to be entrusted with the overall execution of the Mechanism’s mandate. The extent of the world’s yearning for justice was made clear to me yet again this April, when I conducted my first mission to Rwanda in my new capacity. I was deeply moved while visiting memorial sites and speaking with survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi.

A few weeks later, I travelled to Croatia to help launch an exhibition on the ethnic cleansing that took place in Ahmići, central Bosnia, over 26 years ago. These occasions reinforced to me that, while international justice takes time and costs money, we must never forget the lessons from previous generations, who have seen first-hand that the alternative is so much worse. The Mechanism plays an important role in delivering justice, and I am determined to do my utmost to maximize its impact in this critical area. 

As many in the diplomatic community may already know, I will be focusing on three main priorities during my Presidency. First and foremost is to ensure that the residual judicial proceedings are conducted efficiently and in a timely manner, while maintaining the highest standards of due process and fair trial rights. The Mechanism is acutely aware in this respect that the Security Council created it to be “a small, temporary and efficient structure, whose functions and size will diminish over time”. Indeed, the temporary nature of our institution will continue to present challenges, particularly when coupled with budgetary constraints that impact the staff and resources at the Mechanism’s disposal. 

Secondly, I am striving to enhance a unified work culture at the Mechanism which benefits not only from a harmonization of practices and procedures at our two branches, but also from a shared vision as to the best and most efficient ways to accomplish our goals. Such inter-branch coordination is crucial for the Mechanism to fulfil its mandate, and I am determined to conduct frequent visits to the Arusha branch throughout my Presidency in order to interact personally with staff and stakeholders there. 

My third key priority is fostering a positive work environment and encouraging high staff morale and performance. This is never straightforward and it becomes more challenging with significant budget cuts across all areas, especially when staff members know that the institution is temporary in nature. Many staff members lost their jobs last year, and many more are concerned about job security in the near future. I want to do my best to motivate and take care of the Mechanism’s most precious asset.

In line with this third priority, I am actively participating in the International Gender Champions hub in The Hague and have not been shy in expressing my full support for female empowerment and gender parity at all levels of our institution.

But the Mechanism’s work cannot stop there. Like all organisations, the Mechanism is not immune from harassment, and under my leadership we are intensifying efforts to stamp out any prohibited conduct that may occur. In light of my strong belief in these issues, I would encourage other leaders to take action to foster gender equality throughout their organisations and the international community as a whole. Certainly from the Mechanism’s perspective, our efforts towards gender equality go hand-in-hand with the ability to recruit and retain excellent staff and thereby function most efficiently.

The Mechanism will have an enduring impact on international peace and justice, so long as we all remain committed to these causes. As its President, I deeply appreciate the assistance and cooperation of States and other key stakeholders around the globe, and I will continue to rely on the support of the international community in carrying out the vital mission that it entrusted both to me and to the Mechanism.

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