In the latest contribution to our “When hope and history rhyme” blog series, the Honorable Richard Goldstone reflects on how violence was averted by justice in South Africa, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and on his work with our Coalition to end impunity for grave crimes around the world.
The most memorable personal event of my life was the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first democratic president of South Africa. It was the culmination of four years of negotiations that were almost derailed a number of times by political violence. It was an event that was unimaginable only a few years before.
The greatest threat to that process was posed on 10 April 1993, by the assassination of Chris Hani, who, other than Mandela, was the most popular freedom fighter in our country. He was the chairman of the South African Communist Party and the chief of staff of the armed wing of the African National Congress. His assassin was a Polish immigrant and he was paid for his evil deed by two members of the white Conservative Party.
Violence and bloodshed appeared to be both inevitable and imminent. President F.W. de Klerk, in an unusual act of statesmanship, handed national broadcasting authority to Mandela, who used television and radio to call for calm.
He addressed the people of South Africa in the following words:
“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. … Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.”
Fortunately, those words found their mark and violence was averted. It was undoubtedly Mandela’s call for justice that was crucial in achieving that result. Those responsible for the assassination of Hani were indeed brought to justice and sentenced to serve many years in prison.
It is justice in other contexts that has also played a role in calming emotions and calls for revenge. Bringing justice to victims was a major success of the two United Nations ad hoc criminal tribunals, for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Bringing some of the leading war criminals to justice in The Hague and Arusha helped millions of victims find solace in the knowledge that their victimhood had been exposed publicly, not only at home but also in the global community.
It is that success that has encouraged 123 nations to ratify the Rome Statute and, in effect, withdraw impunity for the most serious war crimes by supporting the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In the aftermath of bloody war and egregious violence it is only justice that is able to bring about lasting peace.
I came into contact with the Coalition for the ICC when I attended the first week of the diplomatic conference in Rome in June 1998. It was that conference that reached agreement on the Statute to establish the ICC. I met William Pace, the founding and current convenor of the Coalition, who invited me to meet with the leaders of many of its NGO members. I was impressed with their contagious passion and support for the ICC. That commitment has continued to increase during the past twenty years.
My contact with the Coalition continued and for the past 10 years, I have been a member of its Advisory Board. That Board was first chaired by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. I am privileged to have followed Mr. Annan as its chair. I have been able to see close up the valuable role being played by the Coalition with regard to many aspects of the work of the ICC and in particular its encouragement of states to ratify the Rome Statute.
An important contribution was made by the Independent Committee on ICC Judicial Elections established by the Coalition in 2011 to inquire into the qualifications of nominees for judicial appointment to the ICC to be considered by the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) at the end of that year. The Committee found that three of the nominees lacked the requisite qualifications required by the Rome Statute, and they were not elected by the ASP. The ASP also adopted the recommendation made by the Committee to set up its own permanent vetting committee.
My involvement with international justice over the past 21 years has left me with no doubt that all who support justice, whether at home or abroad, should renew their efforts to encourage and assist the ICC. Civil society networks, such as the Coalition for the ICC, play an important role in ensuring that the Court achieves its ultimate purpose— the withdrawal of immunity for war criminals and the acknowledgment of the victims of serious war crimes.
Richard J. Goldstone is a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and a former justice of the Constitutional Court for South Africa. He currently serves as chair of the Coalition for the ICC’s Advisory Board and previously served on an Independent Panel on ICC Judicial Elections established with the support of the Coalition.
This post is the second of our “When hope and history rhyme” blog series, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Coalition for the ICC. Throughout the next year, we will feature posts from Coalition staff, civil society members and officials reflecting on 20 years of fighting impunity, lessons learned and challenges for the future of global justice.