BETH VAN SCHAACK: Hello, I’m Beth Van Schaack, and it’s my honor to address you as the sixth U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice. I started this position during a time of extraordinary challenges and opportunities in pursuing peace through justice and accountability. My job and the mission of my office is to engage in diplomacy and programming to help prevent and respond to atrocities around the world. 

On this international Human Rights Day, I join these distinguished leaders in exploring emerging trends that can help us discover new ways to advance lasting peace through justice, while reaffirming our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

First, I want to congratulate my dear friend Amal Clooney for her award today. Her relentless work in the pursuit of justice for vulnerable populations in some of the most disturbing conflicts of the world have been exemplary.  And I join in its tribute to Ken Roth for his 30 amazing years of outstanding service in the field of human rights.

With my short remarks today, I’d like to highlight three emerging areas that would benefit from additional conceptual and financial investments from the international community, including advocates and philanthropists. Although much attention has been paid to the promise of open source investigations, the testimony of witnesses remains essential in complex prosecutions involving war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and genocide. As such, I have made the protection of victims and witnesses, including insider witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of these atrocities as one of my key priorities. I look forward to collaborating with others inside and outside of government to identify new policies and resources to support and protect witnesses as their contributions are critical to our collective justice efforts.

We also recognize that the various manifestations of climate change, including mass deforestation and drought, are critical drivers of a conflict and risk factors for mass atrocities, particularly against vulnerable populations, including women and girls. Consistent with the president’s vision on combating climate change, my office is working with other governmental and non-governmental partners to develop policies to address issues related to international crimes in advancing climate justice.

And as we think innovatively about partnerships and justice and accountability, we cannot lose sight of the role that corporations and those who run and invest in them can play in enabling the commission of atrocity crimes, but also potentially being forces for good. The international community can do more to ensure that there are tangible consequences to negative corporate conduct, whether it be reputational harms, financial sanctions, or potentially criminal penalties.

Case in point is the recent plea agreement by Lafarge Holcim, in which the company admitted to revenue sharing with ISIS and to pay $788 million in fines and forfeiture to the US Department of Justice. France is also pursuing a criminal case against the company, alleging its complicity in ISIS crimes against humanity in Syria. Swedish authorities are also currently pursuing criminal charges against the chairman and the former CEO of Lundin Oil, accusing him of complicity in war crimes carried out by Sudanese army and Allied militia operating in an area where the company planned to carry out oil exploration in what is now South Sudan.

It is important for corporate actors to know that facilitating, encouraging or aiding the commission of mass atrocities and human rights abuses is not only morally wrong, but can and will impact their bottom line. To that end, the United States uses a suite of tools, including sanctions, licensing restrictions, and legal compliance requirements. The recently passed Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, for example, creates a rebuttable presumption that goods emanating from the Xinjiang region were produced with the forced labor of Uyghurs.

And so I call on all of us, government, civil society, philanthropists, and the private sector alike to continue working toward innovative solutions, forging new partnerships, and investing in the areas of witness protection, corporate responsibility, and climate justice to enhance existing pathways for pursuing justice for victims and survivors around the world. And now, I’d like to hand it over to Karim Khan, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Thank you. 

U.S. Department of State

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