Vanuatu Raises Issue Of Climate Change Justice At International Criminal Court

Minister says ICC must protect all people including the 'smallest and unheard'

By Len Garae

PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Nov. 21, 2016) – “We are here to protect a wider Earth community, our people and our planet, from the most significant crimes of concern to the international community.

Justice must not only be seen to be done, Justice must be done — and nothing less.”

These are the words of the Minister of Justice and Community Services, Ronald Warsal, when he delivered his powerful statement as the first Minister from Vanuatu, and the only Minister from the Pacific to attend, the 15th Session of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute and International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands on November 17.

The Minister said the International Criminal Court must extend its outreach to the Pacific States.

He said he did not speak only as the Minister of Justice for Vanuatu, but also as a father of four children, as a representative for his people and as a man who has direct experience of the trauma that his people have suffered as a result of climate change.

He said, “This is nothing less than an ecological, economic and cultural disaster.

“People are being displaced, tribes and languages lost and an ancient heritage wiped off the face the earth, with no chance of ever returning.

“Ours is a quest of epic proportions, of a David and Goliath story, where we are often the smallest and the unheard, but I come here to reach out to all of you, to ask for you to stand strong with us, as we find a path towards true justice, and inter-generational security and peace. Because protecting this world, and the beauty of all creatures upon it, is not something we do for ourselves, but because we are the trustees of the future of our children and we are also the guardians of the future of our Earth and seas”.

Vanuatu ratified the Rome Statute in 2012.

He told the Assembly’s President Kaba, “I am well aware that I am in the presence of greatness. But great men and women are rarely isolated mountain peaks. They are the summits of Ranges”.

Minister Warsal said Vanuatu supports the ‘Policy paper on case selection and prioritisation’ of crimes that are “committed by means of, or what result in the destruction of the environment…”

He continued, “We feel that this is a clear direction that the court needs to move in and we assure the prosecutor of our full support.

“I know from my personal experience, how the destruction of the environment can adversely affect communities.

“In Vanuatu, we have islands that are being washed away; roads that are being eaten by the sea and ever more natural disasters.

“Unfortunately these are no longer incidents, but they are the result of a long chain of environmental wrong doings.

“Last year for instance we saw the devastation of Cyclone Pam.

“Rebuilding our communities from that natural disaster costed our nation over half of our GDP.”

The Minister echoed the words of Chief Prosecutor Madame Fatsou Bensouda saying it is also Vanuatu’s quest to end impunity collectively.

“We must work in unity in order to involve the active participation of all State Parties, including those who experience difficulties meeting their financial obligations. We feel it only right to say we are able to participate here as part of our arrears has been paid, yet we know many States are not able to do so.

“This is particularly relevant to three from our own Pacific region, where I come from, where climate-change related events have severely impacted the economic growth of a number of countries”, he said.

In conclusion the Minister listed Vanuatu’s vision as follows:

  • A vision of a strong International Criminal Court which has the legal capacity, political backing and financial support to work to its full potential.
  • An ICC which has the mandate to protect the vulnerable and bring justice to those who have been hit by the worst of mankind’s making.
  • An ICC which can live out the true meaning of its creed: to protect all peoples of our planet which are united by common bonds, their cultures pieced together in a shared heritage and their lives forever entwined by the shared environment we live in.

Vanuatu Daily Post
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