How Can UN Human Rights Fact-Finding Sharpen International Criminal Prosecutions?

On Friday 15 January 2016, Lyal S. Sunga addressed a packed house at the ICC’s new building in The Hague at the invitation of the ICC Prosecutor with a presentation on “How Can UN Human Rights Fact-Finding Sharpen International Criminal Prosecutions?”

Drawing from the experience of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, from the ICC, and from his personal experience supporting the UN Security Council’s Commission of Experts on Rwanda and the UN Human Rights Council’s Group of Experts on Darfur, he contended that information from UN human rights sources should not be ignored or undervalued in international criminal investigations. Neither could UN human rights information replace careful evidence gathering from ICC investigators themselves. He explored the many practical dilemmas that arise in the field from the fact that human rights investigators are often the first at the scene of serious crimes, but they may be neither equipped nor mindful to record the identity of sources or to ensure a secure chain of custody that could allow information to become admissible in court as evidence.

On the other hand, international criminal investigators always need to sketch out the big picture to select situations for preliminary investigations in the first place, to appreciate the capacity and willingness of domestic authorities to prosecute, and to situate individuals in the chain of command. Much of that information comes from the particularly rich sources of information available in the UN human rights system.

Sunga’s presentation examined the distinct and separate purposes and methods of human rights fact-finding on the one hand, and international criminal investigation on the other, but showed the relevance of each to the other against the backdrop of practical challenges in holding individuals criminally responsible for atrocities they committed or ordered to be committed during war or serious conflict.

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