One of the most significant recent changes in international law is the personal liability of government leaders for atrocities under their jurisdiction, said British Columbia’s ombudsperson Kim Carter in a special lecture at Glendon Nov. 15.
“Bringing Slobodan Milosevic to face the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was a major milestone in international law,”stated the former chief military judge for the Canadian Armed Forces.
Invited to deliver the third annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture on International Law, she made the comments as part of her talk on the evolution of humanitarian law and its challenges.
Right: Kim Carter with Jean-Gabriel Castel (centre) and Michael Barutciski
Carter’s unshakable belief in the field’s importance was largely formed by her experience in the Balkans, she told an audience of students and faculty.
“Humanitarian missions are filled with difficult questions,” said Carter. “If you are ordered to deliver food and medical supplies to a specific town and you are stopped 50 km away by a militia roadblock, do you kill some to feed some? If you’re stopped, not by militia, but by other starving citizens, do you give them the food and arrive to your destination empty handed?”
It is clear that there are no magic solutions and no decision is ever perfect. Yet the need to confront these issues is of paramount importance and the War Crime Tribunal was originally established in response to this need, she said.
Carter underlined the need for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be involved when states fail to hold their citizens accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. She expressed her belief that a war-torn country cannot be healed until justice has been served. She also pointed to the ICC’s crucial deterrent role – now that individuals can be held accountable for their actions – functioning in a pre-emptive rather than a reactive mode.
Carter emphasized the importance of the lessons learned from the Balkan experience and their impact on current directions in international law. “Without justice there is no history, there are only current events,” she said. “Without justice and closure for the victims of crimes, we cannot hope to go on to peace.”
Citing other examples of atrocities and war crimes in places such as Somalia and Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan, Carter predicted that lack of effective international action in these problem areas would inevitably lead to even greater threats to international security. She further stated that these are not yet times for optimism, as major humanitarian crises continue to loom over the international community.
In response to questions about Rwanda and Darfur, Carter suggested that the UN should reconsider its approach to humanitarian crises and the use of force. UN missions have not been given the proper powers to be effective in military terms, she said, and referred to Romeo Dallaire’s book on Rwanda, Shake Hands with the Devil, as a shattering description of this situation. “While having a judicial enforcement mechanism for trying war criminals can be effective in deterring violations of the laws of war, stronger military responses by the UN need to be authorized to ensure that major humanitarian crises like Darfur, Kosovo and Rwanda will never again occur,” said Carter.
Carter graduated with a BA in history from Glendon in 1976. One of her first professors in international law was Jean-Gabriel Castel, in whose honour the lecture series was established and who attended Carter’s talk.
The lecture was organized and hosted by Glendon international studies Professor Michael Barutciski. In his introduction, Barutciski said: “Having served as Chief Military Judge for the Canadian Armed Forces, Director of International Law at the Office of the Judge Advocate General, and currently serving as Ombudsman for British Columbia, Kim Carter is an outstanding example of what Glendon promotes through its unique bilingual liberal arts program: graduates who go on to make a difference in public affairs, both domestically and internationally.”
About the Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture Series in International Law
The annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture was established in 2005 to examine major legal issues of general concern. Castel gave the first lecture, The Legality of Unilateral Armed Intervention, and George Alexandrowicz, a professor at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law, gave the second, Developments in Global Governance.
Castel is a distinguished senior scholar and research professor emeritus at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School who lectures on international law at Glendon. He is an author, international arbitrator, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Officer of the Order of Canada and Chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur. One of the first foreign Fulbright scholars, he studied at Harvard Law School, where he obtained a doctorate in law. In his 52 years of teaching, 46 at Osgoode and, in part, Glendon, Castel has authored dozens of books and treatises in English and French and over 100 scholarly articles. He served as editor-in-chief of the Canadian Bar Review for 27 years and received the David W. Mundell Medal for Excellence in Legal Writing in 2004.
This article was submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny and based on contributions by Professor Michael Barutciski and students in his third-year international studies class as well as Glendon development coordinator Meagan Ross.