Delivered by H.E. Lana Nusseibeh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the UAE to the UN

Thank you, Mr. President.

I would like to add my voice to those who have congratulated Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and the delegation of the United States for their very successful presidency of the Security Council in May. We offer our full support to Albania for their presidency this month and welcome your presence, Prime Minister Rama, and your country’s choice of this important topic for your first signature debate.

I join others in thanking the Honourable Ms. Joan E. Donoghue, President of the International Court of Justice, for her detailed briefing and for the critical work of the primary judicial organ of the UN, as well as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for her remarks. Ms. Michelle Bachelet, your briefing today reminds us all of the importance of your mandate and the work that you and your Office undertake within the UN system to promote and protect human rights. I would also like to thank Professor Dapo Akande for his expert briefing, which has provided much food for thought.

This year alone, we have met in this chamber countless times to hear accounts of horrific crimes from conflicts across all regions. And although those most affected by such crimes may differ in their geography and circumstances, they are nevertheless united in their call for “justice”; a concept that is rooted in all cultures and traditions. Indeed, the very first line of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that ‘justice’, together with freedom and peace, are the universal ideals that we seek to achieve through recognition of the equality, inherent dignity, and inalienable rights of all persons.

We therefore commend Albania for its initiative to focus our attention today on a matter that not only lies at the heart of this Council’s mandate but is also an inherent feature of the human condition: the desire – the need – for justice and accountability to vindicate rights and prevent and punish wrongs. This is a sensibility so innate to the human experience that children understand it and can convey it almost before they can talk. 

We know the harm caused by serious crimes is profound and enduring. In addition to the unbearable pain and trauma that victims and survivors suffer, these crimes tear apart the social fabric and destroy the trust that should exist between communities, between citizens and their governments, and between states. The widespread and systematic commission of serious crimes also undermines trust in the frameworks and institutions established to maintain peace and security and to protect those rights.

There is no viable alternative to the Westphalian nation state system that we all co-exist in, but at the same time, sovereign systems do not shield countries from international law or from responsibility. Rather, they strengthen international law for the benefit of States, and their people and the international community. When applied fairly, international law articulates state sovereignty, it does not undermine it. It is when it is misapplied or politicized that double standards emerge. And accountability cannot be looked at solely as an international mechanism at the expense of a domestic answer. International and domestic rule of law are the right and left hands of justice. The key to achieving an effective global culture of accountability is a balancing act that upholds universal standards while serving to strengthen state cohesion and its capacity to wield justice.

We all subscribe to the idea that international norm-setting is beneficial and that there is a value in reaching a shared understanding of rules and best practices. It is something that we do every day in this building. We debate an issue, each with our own perspectives, cultural contexts, interests, and we reach an outcome that we can all subscribe to that move us forward together.   At the same time, we uphold these norms and rules most successfully and efficiently through our national state systems. Applying these agreements in these international bodies in our national contexts.

The UAE believes that the development of international law is therefore an essential part of our collective evolution as an international system. Much of our focus today will rightly argue for evolution of our institutions and mechanisms which we fully subscribe to. But we would like to make the following observations on how we can strengthen accountability for international crimes highlighting three practical considerations using powerful local examples and contexts.

First and foremost, entrusting national systems through building capacity is a more sustainable and longer-term strategy to upholding international law. And this should be reflected in how we fund and allocate resources to our respective national institutions. The last thirty years provide useful examples about effective domestic justice mechanisms that are often best-placed to navigate cultural issues and practical challenges in these environment. These go from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, to most recently, Colombia’s Truth Commission and the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. These real live examples demonstrate that national ownership of accountability efforts allows States the opportunity to re-establish the confidence of citizens in their public institutions, and reckon with their societies’ collective trauma. Before thinking of imposing outside initiatives, let’s build on the endogenous solutions developed by local communities.

Similarly, there is much to be learned from the Security Council’s approach in establishing UNITAD’s mandate, in close partnership with the Iraqi government, to collect, preserve, and store evidence in Iraq of atrocities committed by Da’esh. UNITAD offers a model of how this Council can work in partnership with impacted States to strengthen domestic laws and national prosecutions of international crimes. Crucially, this includes building capacity in relation to sexual and gender-based crimes that requires particular capabilities. The UAE is proud to have financially contributed to the investigative efforts of UNITAD’s Sexual and Gender-Based Crimes and Children Unit. In this very Chamber, Nadia Murad has told us countless time and compelled us to fight injustice, protect victims, and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Today I think we are making that fact  a reality.

Second, the Security Council should leverage the full toolkit at its disposal to maximize its impact. For example, over centuries, sexual violence has been used, and continues to be used, as a tactic of war, terror, and repression. Today, however, the Security Council has a broad range of mechanisms that can be deployed to address this crime. Yet the use of sanctions by the Council to address sexual violence remains inconsistent and insufficient. Several sanctions regimes still do not include sexual violence as a specific and stand-alone criterion for designation. Individuals listed for such crimes are too few. What a powerful message it would send to potential offenders if this Council were to step up and employ to their full extent the tools it already has to advance accountability for sexual violence. This could include listing individuals who order, perpetrate, or incite sexual violence. The stigmatization impact of sanctions for sexual violence would not only be a step forward in accountability, but it would serve as a powerful deterrent. Inaction is not an option when the actions we can take are so clearly in front of us.

Third, trust in the information we rely on in seeking accountability has been eroded in our digital age where misinformation and disinformation is so prevalent. Our response to allegations of crimes cannot ignore this reality. At the same time, the rapid development of new technologies has proven invaluable in investigative and accountability processes. The deployment of cutting-edge technology can indeed facilitate the collection, analysis, management, and security of evidence. We need to bear in mind The challenges of using only a digital approach. We  welcome UNITAD’s innovative practices and its development of a digital data factory based on artificial intelligence and machine learning to process and enhance evidence collection. And these advances have also empowered citizens to document crimes through means that are increasingly admissible in courts. This is all to be good.

But an excessive reliance on technology, however, could weaken a victim-centered approach to justice. The UAE has previously spoken about the digital divide in this Chamber with over a third of the world’s population having never used the internet. And there is a risk of creating a two-tier system of accountability that privileges victims in areas with access to internet and technology while marginalizing others. We would therefore welcome further discussion on how we can maximize the use of technology while mitigating its potential effects and ensuring that such a two-tier system of access does not emerge.  

I want to conclude where we began. The concepts of accountability, justice, and fairness are universal and should unite the international community – not divide us. The achievement of a perfectly just society which is unattainable, may be unattainable, but our search for accountability should be within reach. Today we have shared practical examples that get us closer to that objective and we will continue to support efforts to strengthen accountability and justice for these serious violations of international law.