moved that Bill C-19, an act respecting genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and to implement the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin just by recalling for the House a statement that was made by Isaiah Berlin, one of the great moral philosophers of this century in a lecture that he gave about 30 years ago. He said that we must be reminded that the Nazi concentration camps of the second world war offer the most conclusive justification for the necessity of a universal moral law. He then went on to say, and I think it is a pertinent comment for this debate, that the primary duty of any politics was to avoid the extremes of human suffering.
Since the second world war there have been people in politics who have made every effort and given voice to the question of the extremism that leads to human suffering. The Nuremberg trials themselves immediately after the war and the development of the convention on human rights and the genocide convention or the tribunals that have been established for Rwanda and the Balkans have all been efforts to establish a new trend of humanitarian law that begins to set standards for that universal moral behaviour.
This movement has been an effort to develop a fundamental principle about the protection of individuals and their rights, not the protection of nation-states, not the protection of the interests of the grand powers but the fundamental protection of the security of individuals and to hold people accountable for those who commit crimes against individuals.
I am pleased to report that the adoption two years ago of the statute for the development of the International Criminal Court was perhaps one of the most substantial and forward looking steps our generation has ever taken to prepare the world for that new sense of accountability.
This was why I had the privilege, in December, of introducing Bill C-19 concerning crimes against humanity.
This bill would implement the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in Canada and would also strengthen the legislative groundwork for the prosecution of crimes in Canada.
It is in this debate and discussion at second reading that we must bear in mind the vital reasons we need to support the International Criminal Court and why Canada has taken such a position of leadership.
We have seen time after time on our television screens, human suffering and shocking violations of people's rights throughout the world. Instead of diminishing over time, the scale of human violence has substantially increased. Perhaps the most stark, dramatic and horrendous statistic that comes to mind is that 90% of today's victims in war are civilians, women and children, the most vulnerable. They are the ones who pay the price. In fact they are often the targets.
We read in the newspapers about the trials going on in the Hague and about the deliberate planned violation of women as part of the war aims during the Bosnia war. This brings to mind the horror that takes place in this world of ours. Millions of women and children have suffered torture, rape, expulsion and extinction. They have been mutilated for no reason other than a hatred for their tribe, their religion or their ethnic background.
I recently read the book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. The author went into a school that had been attacked by the genocidaires, the murderers, during that horrible period in 1994. He described how he walked in and saw a room full of mutilated corpses and skeletons of young children and what had happened to them. The genocidaires had arrived one morning and had asked who were the Hutu and who were the Tutsi. The Hutu kids were told to leave and the Tutsi kids were murdered. He then went on to describe how the international community ignored that peril and threat. Almost half a million people were killed for no other reason than who they were and who they belonged to.
It is so important that we begin to establish the fundamental principle of accountability. We can no longer tolerate people hiding behind the walls of national protection, the impunity that says “I am simply doing my duty” or “I am in a position of responsibility”. We can no longer accept that as being a basis for international law. That is why we are debating Bill C-19 at second reading. Establishing the International Criminal Court is one way of safeguarding the culture of accountability against the threat of impunity. That is the basic question we are here to decide.
It is also a practical imperative. The more deterrents we can provide to this kind of human violence, to this kind of attack against individual rights, the more we stop it from happening, the more it begins to provide a lesson and a warning to those who would commit crimes in the future. It begins to establish basic principles. That is why, in establishing this new culture of individual accountability, we need new tools and institutions.
The International Criminal Court represents in a sense a gift from the last century to the new century. It is the first new international institution in the UN family or community of institutions that has been established specifically to deal with the question of international crime. It will begin to hold deliberately liable those who violate victims and to hold them personally responsible for those actions. It is a huge step forward for humankind in developing this kind of institution.
It is true that we have war crimes tribunals working in Rwanda and in the Balkans but it is an ad hoc approach. It is subject to the wrangling that takes place in the security council or in other forums along the way. It sometimes leads to selective justice and is not universally applied.
The creation of a permanent, independent institution can overcome these weaknesses. It can build upon those foundations and because of its permanence it will serve as a more reliable deterrent to perpetrators of these crimes.
This is why Canadians spoke out so strongly in favour of the International Criminal Court and supported the important role played by Canada, which insisted that the court be independent and effective.
In July 1998, Canada presided over the final negotiations, during which the international community adopted the Rome Statute.
I would like to pay a personal tribute to one of our senior officials, Master Philippe Kirsch, who was the president of the Rome meetings and was instrumental, along with many other officials of our department and a great number of NGOs in the country and internationally, in providing the momentum and kind of direction that allowed us to bring this court into being.
The ICC statute now provides a permanent court to try those accused of the most serious crimes recognized by international law, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Significantly, and this was a major Canadian initiative in Rome, the statute contains new provisions responding to crimes against women and children. For the first time that is now becoming part of the new basis of international humanitarian law.
Let me deal with one of the critiques we hear sometimes from right wing commentators and others that somehow this is a threat to our sovereignty. It is absolutely not the case. The statute of the court makes very explicit and clear that the first line of defence is the domestic court system. Those countries that have a fair and impartial legal system are being asked to use that system. The international court is only a court of last resort and within it are built a whole series of safeguards on the appointment of judges and the thresholds that have to be reached before it can be triggered.
However it fills the vacuum of those failed states in which the judicial system no longer exists, is politically biased or simply cannot function to bring criminals to account. This court will only take jurisdiction where national judicial systems are either unwilling or unable to investigate these crimes.
Other safeguards are designed to ensure that the court provides a fundamental basis but gives the stimulation and the inspiration for countries themselves to ensure that they bring into law their own implementing legislation which charges their own judicial systems for the implementation of criminal acts against humanity and war crimes.
It is important to say that this has received worldwide acceptance. Some 120-odd countries have already signed the treaty. Eight have now ratified it. I want to say with some pride in the House that the statute we are debating today, the Crimes Against Humanity Act, is the first major comprehensive implementing legislation brought forward by any legislature around the world and will provide a model for all other countries to determine how it will implement the international court statute.
The act will create new offences of genocide and crimes against humanity. These changes will allow Canada to prosecute those responsible or to surrender them to the ICC. Similar provisions will be created to respect serious crimes committed outside Canada. As we know from a supreme court judgment of a few years ago there has always been an ambiguity as to the capacity of Canada to apprehend those who have committed war crimes outside this country.
These new provisions in the act will overcome problems that we have faced in the past. The legislation will strengthen Canada's ability to carry out successful prosecutions wherever and whenever they occur. In addition, new offences would also be created to protect the administration of justice of the court as well as the safety of judges, officials and witnesses.
The act will enable Canada to surrender persons sought by the International Criminal Court for genocide or war crimes. The person who is the subject of a request for surrender by the court would not be able to claim immunity from arrest or surrender.
The act will also ensure that those who possess or launder the proceeds from war crimes can be prosecuted. Money obtained from forfeited assets and the enforcement of fines will be paid into a crimes against humanity fund for the benefit of all victims of these serious war crimes.
I hope the bill we are debating today can very quickly be put into the standing committee so we can invite the full participation of all Canadians. Let us have a serious debate, because this is one of the historic steps forward this country is taking in implementing a new legal order. We must move forward so that we can affirm very clearly Canada's commitment to ensuring that the world's worst criminals do not escape justice.
This is truly a watershed in history, a breaking from the past in which victims of those crimes were so often ignored. As we proceed we can also say that with the help of many other like minded countries and many of the international civil groups that have been working on it, we are also seeking to obtain the support of those who did not originally sign on. We are beginning to broaden the consensus and develop more recruits for this international court statute.
I can say to members that the degree to which we can affirm our commitment will stand as a beacon, a signal to the rest of the world that we mean business and that we are continuing to provide that kind of leadership. Even though the International Criminal Court is not yet fully ratified, it has already established new standards to deal with the question of impunity and accountability.
Since the adoption of the ICC statute in Rome we witnessed the indictment of Pinochet and the affirmation that former heads of state do not necessarily enjoy immunity. It is a new standard that will begin to act its way through the various councils, not just in terms of the heads of government or military people but also the war lords, the heads of organizations that undertake mass murders in countries like Angola and Sierra Leone. It begins to apply accountability to all individuals.
That is really the break from the past. We are saying in terms of our human security agenda that is not a matter of just the security of the state, as important as that remains. It is also increasing the security of the individual. To do that we begin to establish this new principle of accountability and, furthermore, put in place an institution to make sure it happens.
It is fair to say there has been a groundswell of support. It is fascinating to me that beginning this week, as we go to the security council, that the Canadian mission will be debating for the first time in the council the question of transgressions against the rights of women in Afghanistan. Following that there will be a number of initiatives dealing with the protection of civilians, the use of sanctions, and the whole question of the application of security council measures dealing with displaced persons. All of a sudden, even in that implacable centre of conservatism when it comes to international change, the council is beginning to shift its point of view.
I hope that we can do our part in the House today. I hope we can maintain the strong momentum that has been developed to shift the world's perspective to what we mean by international justice and accountability. The adoption of the legislation and the ratification of the statute can affirm that Canadians are appalled by the breaking of these laws and these crimes and are committed to ensuring that justice is done.
During the course of my remarks I mentioned the book about Rwanda written by Philip Gourevitch and how he opened the book by talking about the horrible violation against young children in a school in Rwanda. At the end of the book I think he comes to an appropriate closing which may, while it is still a horrendous story, leave us with a small sense of hope.
He describes how, when he was leaving Rwanda after completing the work on his manuscript, he turned on the radio and heard that once again the same kind of horrendous crime was taking place and that the genocidaires who had escaped across the border as part of their refugee movement had come back into Rwanda and were once again undertaking these violations and crimes. Murambi, a Catholic girls school in Rwanda, had been attacked by the genocidaires the day before. They used the same practice of dividing the students into the Hutu and Tutsi. They said that the Hutu could leave and the Tutsi must stay. However, this time there was a difference. The young Hutu women in the Catholic school said they would not leave, that they would not betray their friends. They stayed behind. They too were murdered by the genocidaires.
It is an awful story but within it there is an element of hope that these courageous young women gave their lives not to betray their friends and stood in solidarity for spirit and principle. In effect they expressed what this legislation is all about. Humanity can stand up to crimes. We can stand up against violations. In the spirit of those young women in that Catholic school, I hope the House will endorse the bill.