Prosecution of international crimes should be driven by countries' own domestic legislative mechanisms, argued legal experts at a seminar on the question of immunity and impunity in prosecuting of heads of state, held in Sydney last week.
Mark Ierace SC, senior public defender at the NSW Public Defender's Office, told the seminar -- which was hosted by the Red Cross and Mallesons Stephen Jaques -- that many nations were now prosecuting a considerable amount of international crimes.
Ierace declared the need for Australia to have a "dedicated prosecution unit for war crimes", in line with other similar bodies overseas.
"Australia is very much out of step at the moment. America has [a unit], Canada has [a unit] and we are seeing in many, many states on a daily basis prosecutions of war crimes and crimes against humanity," Ierace said.
Kelisiana Thynne, a legal adviser for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Regional Delegation in the Pacific, said she spends much of her time discussing the need to adopt the Geneva Convention, which include provisions for criminal prosecution, with nations in the Pacific region.
"It is this domestic legal framework that will be of most use in ensuring that violations of international humanitarian law will be limited, and, if they occur, will be punished," she said.
"In particular, this means implementing into domestic law the ability to prosecute all those who commit grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other breaches of international humanitarian law."
Another delegate, Steven Freeland, an Associate Professor in International Law at the University of Western Sydney, said the success of international criminal law through mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court (ICC) would not only be measured on hundreds of successful prosecutions, but whether the outbreak of war was reduced.
"I think it probably is a greater accountability at the national level. Countries themselves taking on the responsibility of themselves prosecuting the perpetrators of these crimes," he said.
The seminar, timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Convention on August 12, was held as a part of the Humanitarian Law Perspectives project, a joint initiative between the Red Cross and Mallesons, which aims to further legal education in the area, as well as provide research papers on cases and issues affecting international law. For links to the project's research papers, click here.
- Sarah Sharples
For an in-depth look at prosecuting heads of state through international criminal law mechanisms, see the upcoming issue 449 of Lawyers Weekly.