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Good afternoon. It is a pleasure and an honor to be with you all today, and to have had the opportunity to participate in many of the discussions that have taken place over the past few days as part of this convening. I would like to thank the organizers – the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, the Oxford Program on International Peace and Security, the International Bar Association, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum – for inviting me and congratulate them for their work on this issue. It is also a great pleasure to be on the panel with my predecessor and former boss, Ambassador Rapp, who is an inspiration as he continues to be “at-large” in the relentless pursuit of justice.

The United States has long supported efforts to promote justice and accountability for atrocity crimes. We recognize ensuring justice and accountability for these horrific crimes is not only a moral imperative, it is also in our national interest, and a contributor to international peace and security. Credible justice processes can help end cycles of violence, prevent the recurrence of abuse, address the needs of victims, and strengthen the rule of law. This, in turn, helps mitigate the need of vulnerable populations to seek refuge across borders, and creates the conditions for long-term durable peace and prosperity for the countries involved, their region, and the entire international community.

Guided by these fundamental principles, the United States has helped establish the international trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo, and the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda. We have supported hybrid courts in Sierra Leone, Timor Leste, Cambodia, Lebanon, Bosnia and Kosovo. We have supported various governments’ domestic efforts to address the commission of atrocity crimes in places like Colombia and Guatemala. And we have worked with international partners to support the prosecution of atrocity crimes in foreign domestic courts, where appropriate.

Notwithstanding these efforts, there have been many situations in which a venue to pursue justice, at least at a given point in time, has proven elusive. Russia’s history of vetoing justice efforts in the Security Council, for example, is well known. But like so many of us in this room, we refused to be deterred. In many of these contexts we have worked with our international partners to establish commissions of inquiry, fact finding missions, and international investigative mechanisms to investigate, document, analyze, and report on abuses.

Many of these mechanisms have also built dossiers which have been shared and contributed to prosecutions when a venue became available.

These mechanisms have already demonstrated tremendous value in the pursuit and promotion of justice and accountability for atrocity crimes.

On their own, these mechanisms provide justice to victims through truthseeking and truth-telling, by acknowledging and documenting crimes and abuses committed against them. These mechanisms have also provided important information and evidence to criminal proceedings in national and international courts, some of which have already resulted in convictions like in the case against Anwar Raslan in Koblenz, Germany.

They have also provided information to proceedings before the International Court of Justice, and national civil proceedings. The information they have provided has also supported economic sanctions, visa denials, and diplomatic and public pressure that helps prevent the recurrence of abuse. And their investigations and analysis will continue to bear fruit well into the future, as the information and evidence they have gathered is shared across a wide range of justice and accountability efforts.

At the same time, we have seen first-hand the challenges faced by these critical ad hoc processes. Many are faced over and over again. As the Oxford report outlines: these challenges have resulted in unnecessary delays, inefficiencies, coordination gaps, competition for limited specialized resources, and challenges navigating the modern information landscape—including digital information. There is also an acute need to disseminate best practices and lessons learned amongst all accountability actors, including with civil society, to ensure a high degree of interoperability.

But many of these challenges can be overcome. Certain functions of these types of mechanisms and processes may lend themselves to centralization to benefit from economies of scale and the efficient deployment of technical expertise. This could include:

  • Technology to enhance open source investigations, encompassing the need to authenticate, deduplicate, and verify digital artifacts, including through the use of state-of-the-art machine learning capabilities;
  • Expertise in mass grave, financial, and battlefield forensics;
  • SGBV and trauma-informed techniques for working with survivors;
  • Secure data management and preservation;
  • The ability to deconstruct a chain of command and construct the order of battle; and
  • Coordinating with civil society actors.

It also includes centralized: IT, administrative, financial, human resource, and logistical infrastructure.

We are happy to be here today, and to have participated in this event over the past few days, to discuss possible solutions to these critical problems. It is these pressing problems that inspired Oxford, the International Bar Association, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and others to invest so much time and effort in this project.

The research, report, recommendations, and discussions about these issues lays a solid foundation for all of us to work together to find a way forward. A way forward that acknowledges the political, financial, and logistical realities of the day while honoring victims’ needs for justice and our common interest in a world where those responsible for the most serious crimes are held to account.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future