The former prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR), Richard Goldstone, spoke and reflected on the developments in international justice over the last twenty years at American University Washington College of Law. Mr. Goldstone, despite a humble presence, left the audience with a strong sense of his incredible career as an outstanding jurist and leader in the field of international criminal law. Having played a prominent role in shaping international justice, his re-affirmation in its necessity, and his discussion on the future role of the ICC, and his continued work in the field highlight a future where a war criminal, whether a president or a commander in an army, cannot hide behind a wall of impunity.

Former Prosecutor of the ICTY Richard Goldstone Speaks at WCL
Former Prosecutor of the ICTY Richard Goldstone Speaks at WCL

Despite the title of the event, Goldstone revealed that he was not actually the first chief prosecutor of the ICTY. Ramon Escovar Salom of Venezuela was first appointed to the position in January of 1993, but after his third day in The Hague, Escovar resigned for a minister position in his home country. Eight months of indecisiveness by the Security Council followed. Goldstone reflected on the circumstances of his appointment and highlighted the consequences of the politics in the United Nations (UN). The UN Security Council vetoed eight judges, mostly motivated by individual political reasons, before appointing Goldstone, leaving the victims in the former Yugoslavia forgotten and demeaned. Mr. Goldstone expresses his dismay in the “ridiculousness of the Security Council” for playing political games at victims’ expense.

Mr. Goldstone, although a prominent figure in South Africa’s judiciary known for several critical decisions that helped undermine the Apartheid regime, ascended to his position as Chief Prosecutor for the ICTY with little knowledge about the UN or the problem at hand. But with the encouragement of the late President Mandela, Goldstone took on the position vigorously and eagerly. Being new to the UN, Goldstone struggled with the “ways” of the organization. He called their bureaucracy full of contradictory “rules to do or not do anything.” Mr. Goldstone, who used direct and open communication with member states, became frustrated with delays and miscommunication of the UN. This was explained in his creation of the ad hoc tribunal in Rwanda. As the Chief Prosecutor to the ICTR, Mr. Goldstone saw the need to set up his offices in Kigali as soon as possible. Due to the lack of funds, he was told that this would not be possible for another year.  To the dismay of the UN, Mr. Goldstone was able to “raise the funds” to travel to Kigali immediately and independent of UN bureaucratic hold ups.

Overall, Mr. Goldstone looked back on his appointment as Chief Prosecutor with pride and joy. He also expressed confidence in the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and international justice. According to Goldstone, the world cannot revert back to a time where there was impunity for war criminals. Civil society saw the need for a judicatory to bring justice, and this will likely not subside. Goldstone realizes that the ICC will most likely face difficulties in the future, especially in regards to allegations of double standards, but admits that there is and will be more success in the area of International Justice. In addition, Goldstone commented on the role of the United States in the ICC and ad hoc tribunals. Although the United States has not ratifies the Rome Statute, which Goldstone believes will not happen soon, U.S. support of the work of the ICC has been invaluable. Mr. Goldstone’s continued optimism for the future of international justice, despite the obstacles of international politics and finance, left the audience with a similar drive to further accountability and justice in the world today.