June 26, 2019

EU member states to give more priority to investigating genocide and war crimes

EU Member States are giving more priority to investigating genocide and war crimes. The number of new cases rose by a third over the last three years, with 1 430 new investigations launched in 2018. This stark increase was one of the major topics of the discussion held on May 23rd, 2019, on the occasion of the 4th EU Day against Impunity for Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes. The discussion was organised by Eurojust, the Romanian EU Council Presidency, the European Commission, and the Genocide Network, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the four Geneva Conventions. Eurojust, the EU’s Judicial Cooperation Unit, hosts the Secretariat of the Genocide Network, which started its work exactly 15 years ago.

Ahead of the event, Eurojust’s President Ladislav Hamran welcomed the sense of responsibility showed by EU member states, stressing the importance of the EU in the fight against genocide and war crimes.

In 2018, a total number of 2 943 cases regarding genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes were pending or ongoing, which is the highest number documented since the creation of the Genocide Network. These cases concern crimes committed worldwide.

The Genocide Network provides a forum for practitioners to exchange information on ongoing cases and share expertise and best practice for the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of international crimes. Further, the Genocide Network is dedicated to raising awareness of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, thus proving the EU’s commitment to fighting impunity of suspected war criminals.

Since the establishment of the Genocide Network, increased action has been taken in the area of international criminal justice. Eurojust, Europol and EU Member States deal with these crimes as key priorities and are stepping up their efforts as well. Moreover, the new legal basis of Eurojust provides it with more power to engage in fighting impunity and bring to justice perpetrators of these crimes.

In 2016, 1 073 new investigations into international crimes were initiated in the 28 EU Member States. This figure rose to 1 233 in 2017, with a further increase to 1 430 in 2018. This trend shows not only the commitment of more and more EU Member States to join the common fight against these crimes, but also the rising impact of armed conflicts in the proximity of the European Union.

With regard to Syria, for instance, France and Germany serve as an example by having set up a joint investigation team (JIT) for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the regime in this country. The JIT is financially and operationally supported by Eurojust, showing the strong effort made by the European Union to target impunity.

The event of May 23rd started with a word of welcome from Eurojust President Mr Ladislav Hamran, who stressed the importance of holding accountable the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, praising the cooperation between Eurojust and Genocide Network in this regard.

Eurojust’s President Ladislav Hamran.

The opening speech was then delivered by HE Ms Ana Birchall, Deputy Prime Minister of Romania and acting Minister of Justice. Her remarks were then followed by those of Mr Ferd Grapperhaus, Dutch Minister of Justice and Security, and Ms Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, as well as by a video message of Ms Vera Jurová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

Addressing the audience, Minister Grapperhaus welcomed the Dutch government’s commitment to ensure justice in addressing cases of crimes against humanity. He also welcomed the progress made by EU member states in this regard, expressing his wish to make further progress on this path.

These keynote speeches were then followed by a panel discussion with: HE Mr Mika-Markus Leinonen, Ambassador and EU Liaison Officer in The Hague for the European External Action Service; Ms Olympia Bekou, professor of public international law and head of the International Criminal Justice Unit of the University of Nottingham, UK; Ms Nicole Vogelenzang, head of the International Crimes Unit, National Prosecution Office, the Netherlands; Ms Iulia Motoc, judge at the European Court for Human Rights, Strasbourg; and Ms Virginie Amato, Europe regional coordinator, Coalition for the ICC. The panel was moderated by HE Ms Brândușa Predescu, Romanian Ambassador to the Netherlands.

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