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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

17 July 2008

Ruth Wijdenbosch, President of the Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee of Suriname, said today that her country’s accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 15 July was an extra guarantee against the possibility of some future governments or individual violating human rights and then escaping justice, because of their position in the government of the day.

Briefing correspondents at Headquarters on the internal process and discussions held in Suriname that led to the country’s accession to the International Criminal Court, Ms. Wijdenbosch, said it was important for Suriname to join the Court, because the country had ratified several human rights treaties and the International Criminal Court was the only one the country had not joined.

The country had gone through “very difficult years” during the country’s military dictatorship of the 1980s, during which there was heightened fear of violence and human rights violations, she added. The accession to the Court was, therefore, viewed as an extra guarantee against anyone in government again contemplating human rights violations and later escaping justice, on account of their being leaders or politicians in government at the time of the commission of the violations.

Ms. Wijdenbosch, who is also a Member of Parliament of Suriname, said, as a lifelong advocate of the International Criminal Court and more so as a human rights activist, she was proud to be at the United Nations to see her efforts come to fruition through the accession to the Rome Statute. In response to a correspondent’s question, she declared: “I want to leave for my people an institution like the ICC to ensure that perpetrators will never go unpunished”.

Speaking earlier, Henry Leonard Mac-Donald, Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations, told the briefing that, with the accession, Suriname had finally become, once again, a full player in the international human rights protection system, a system that made sure that the promotion and protection of human rights was not only the responsibility of States, but also held perpetrators responsible for such heinous crimes as genocide, and other crimes against humanity.

In response to a journalist who wanted to know why it had taken so long for Suriname to accede to the Statute, Ms. Wijdenbosch explained that, although she had started the campaign for the country to become a member, the Government was “not that interested” in becoming a member, nor in participating in the preparatory phase of the Court. She only managed to get the new Government interested between 2000 and 2008. Additionally, the country had also encountered opposition from the United States, because of the American Service-Members’ Protection Act (ASPA), originally signed into law in August 2002, which prohibits the United States from providing military aid to countries that had ratified the Rome Statute without first entering into a “non-surrender” agreement with the United States.

She said ASPA, thus, effectively limits United States cooperation with the International Criminal Court, restricts United States participation in United Nations peacekeeping, prohibits military assistance to most countries that ratify the Rome Statute, and authorizes the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to free any United States or allied personnel held by, or on behalf of, the Court. “So, for political reasons, not so much for financial reasons, my Government postponed the joining of the ICC,” she said. It was only on 8 July that the process was sped up, beginning with the passing of legislation to join the Court. The bill was unanimously supported by both the coalition and opposition parties in the country.

Mr. Mac-Donald further noted that, in addition to having ratified the majority of the international human rights conventions, Suriname had also ratified the regional conventions of the Organization of American States (OAS). The majority of those conventions focused solely on the responsibility of the States, he explained. “So, something was lacking; the responsibility of the individuals.” That was why it was important for Suriname to become a full member of the entire spectrum of human rights protections, as that would make certain that violators at both the State and at the individual levels were held accountable.

When asked whether there had been positive or negative reaction to the news of the country’s accession to the Statute, Mr. Mac-Donald said it was too early to assess the reaction in the country, since the accession is only a few days old. However, the issue had been widely debated in both Government and academic circles, including Parliament prior to the accession. Ms. Wijdenbosch agreed that the matter had been discussed widely in the country and there appeared to be public support for the Court, as efforts had been made to explain to the people, in very simple and clear terms, what the Court meant.

Also speaking at the press conference, Peter Barcroft, Senior Programme Officer for Parliamentarians for Global Action, a non-profit and non-partisan international organization of about 1,300 Parliamentarians in some 120 countries around the world, said his organization was very pleased with Suriname’s deposit of the instrument of accession of the Rome Statute with the United Nations Treaty Office, thereby completing a process that had began many years earlier. He said, as a member of his group’s international law and human rights programme, he had worked closely with the Parliamentarians for Global Action national group in Suriname. His organization worked with members of parliament on a wide range of issues, among them the promotion of democracy, peace, international justice, and population and development throughout the world. Migration and HIV/AIDS were other areas in which the organization was involved.

The New York City-headquartered Parliamentarians for Global Action had actively promoted ratification of the International Criminal Court treaty and had been working on expanding membership of the Court. It also works closely with the United Nations system through the advisory body of the United Nations Committee for the Parliamentarians for Global Action.

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For information media • not an official record

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