In a virtual event organised by the International Bar Association (IBA), the Head of the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar joined counterparts from the UN International, Impartial Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM) and UN Accountability Team for Da’esh (UNITAD), as well as Ambassador Stephen Rapp, a member of the IBA War Crimes Committee Advisory Board, to discuss challenges and opportunities for a new generation of accountability mechanisms.
Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, the Head of the Myanmar Mechanism, provided an overview of the Mechanism’s mandate and its ongoing temporal jurisdiction. The Mechanism is mandated to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law. It is also mandated to prepare criminal case files for use in national, regional or international courts. The Human Rights Council, which created the Mechanism, specifically mentioned the Mechanism’s cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the resolution which established the Mechanism. In its latest resolution on Myanmar, the Human Rights Council also referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where The Gambia alleged that Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention.
Mr. Koumjian also discussed some of the challenges faced by the Mechanism. As the Mechanism is not a court nor associated with one, it does not have judges from whom it can request orders or compel potential information providers to hand over evidence. The Mechanism has to go through State authorities, a process that can be complex, as these authorities must each comply with their own national laws and regulations on privacy.
Mr. Koumjian highlighted how the Mechanism ensures a victim-centric approached to justice and puts outreach as one of its top priorities. “It has to start with listening to what victims have to say,” he said. “As international criminal lawyers, we often think of justice as a trial and as someone going to jail to be held responsible for crimes they committed but when you talk to victims on the ground in Cox’s Bazar, who are refugees – often, the first thing that comes to their mind when you talk about justice is going home.”
While a trial for a perpetrator would not do much to change the situation of victims, Mr. Koumjian believes that accountability mechanisms and international criminal processes contribute to better behavior by States. They contribute to establishing the historical truth and can assist in eventual political solutions to issues such as where people can live, when they can go home and how they can be safe in the homes that they return to.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Koumjian thanked the participants for tuning in to the event and emphasized that investigative mechanisms – and more importantly, people who have been victims of crimes – need their support so that long-term efforts on accountability can eventually come to fruition.