Sana'a Inter-Governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court

Overview Report - Sana'a, 10 – 12 January 2004

10 – 12 January 2004
Sana'a Intergovernmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the role of the International Criminal Court
From 10 to 12 January 2004, Sana’a, the capital city of Yemen, hosted the Intergovernmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the Role of the International Criminal Court, organised by No Peace Without Justice and the Government of Yemen in partnership with the European Union and the governments of Canada, France, Italy, Ireland, Holland, United Kingdom, Switzerland and the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The Conference took place within the context of No Peace Without Justice’s biennial project “Towards the Universality of the Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court” financed by the European Union as part of the European initiatives for promoting democracy and human rights.
The choice of Yemen as host country for this conference was developed through mutual dialogue between the government of Yemen and Emma Bonino – founder of No Peace Without Justice – in Yemen in Spring 2003, when Ms Bonino was acting as an election observer. This mutual initiative was conceptualised throughout the weeks Ms Bonino was in Yemen in a spirit of collaboration with the government during an important phase in the country’s democratic life. The conference, organised in partnership with the Yemen Government, was realised on the basis of the model of the many other intergovernmental conferences organised by No Peace Without Justice around the world.
With the participation of more than 800 people representing 52 countries, 37 ministries, a great number of members of parliament, delegates from neighbouring countries, Arab and non regional civil society and 150 journalists, the Sana’a Conference was a very important event for the Arab and Muslim world. Delegations led primarily by Foreign Ministers or Ministers of Justice came from Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Comoro Islands, Djibouti, Jordan, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, demonstrating the great interest of regional governments in the topics under discussion. Also present were the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference, Abdelouahed Belkeziz.
In addition, more than 150 experts and representatives of NGOs from the Arab world and neighbouring countries, as well as European and American countries, attended on behalf of civil society, although No Peace Without Justice regrets that the Tunisian government forbade the presence of three representatives of Tunisian organisations for the defence of human rights who had been invited to participate in the conference.
In addition to the Ambassadors of the conference’s sponsor countries to Yemen, the European Union was represented by the Attorney-General of the United Kingdom, Lord Goldsmith; the Italian Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Mantica; the German Foreign Under Secretary, Kirsten Muller; the Under Secretary of State for Human Rights for the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gabriel Keller; the Chief of the Dutch Foreign Ministry’s Task Force on the International Criminal Court, Edmund Wallenstein; the Director General for Enlargement with the European Commission Eneko Landaburu; the Head of the EC Delegation in Jordan and in Yemen,
Robert Van der Meulen; and members of the European Parliament, Edward McMillan Scott and Carlos Ripoll Martinez de Bedoja.
Representing the United Nations Secretary-General was Danilo Turk, Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs; for UNDP, the representative in Yemen, James Rawley, was present; and the International Criminal Court was represented by Judge Neroni Slade and by the Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo.
The Yemeni President, H.E. Ali Abdullah Saleh, opened the conference, greeting the participants and thanking No Peace Without Justice and the European Union. “Democracy is the choice of the modern age for all peoples of the world … It is the way to achieve security, stability, development and a better future for our countries,” the President affirmed, adding that democracy and human rights are closely connected and interdependent and that it is therefore necessary to remove all forms of discrimination, oppression and exploitation of people’s human rights.
Emma Bonino, former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and founder of No Peace Without Justice, stressed during her opening speech that this conference is an important step not only for the topics under discussion, but because for the first time, exceptionally, there is common ground for discussion between Non-Governmental and Governmental Organisations. “We do believe that religions -- all religions -- and democracy are compatible. We believe that Islam and democracy are compatible. But history throughout the ages and across the world warns us very clearly that whenever religion is used or manipulated for political goals, this is when problems arise. If we let religion be used in this way, we are not only doing a great disservice to the believers but also to democracy, human rights, mutual respect and tolerance,” affirmed Emma Bonino, calling to mind the intrinsic value – in spite of its imperfections – of the democratic system as a model of government and coexistence.
After the interventions of the conference promoters, during the opening ceremony the floor was taken by the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa; the representative of the UN Secretary General Danilo Türk; the representative of the EU Irish Presidency, Conor Murphy; the Secretary General of the Islamic Conference, Abdelouahed Belkeziz; and the representative of the European Commission, Eneko Landaburu. Furthermore, a video message from Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament, was broadcast.
The conference works were carried out across three topical sessions.
The first session – The Role of the International Criminal Court – [Final Report] concerned the beginning of the International Criminal Court’s work, its possible repercussions for the protection of human rights and the promotion of the democratic values of its state of rights. This session had contributions from Judge Slade and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, as well as those from the ministerial delegates of the State Parties of the Rome Statute and focused in particular on three considerations. First, fears about the ICC must not be overestimated, because the Court’s Statute guarantees the prerogatives regarding national sovereignty while maintaining own independence, and from a judicial point of view it is not incompatible with the national laws of the Arab countries. Second, a universal system of international criminal justice must be adopted in order to resolve conflicts and act as a deterrent. Finally, there are many advantages for Arab countries to become part of the court, to enable them to influence the development of the Court and ensure that it took into account the Islamic jurisprudence, legal traditions and the expertise of the Arab world.
The second session - “Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law” – [Final Report] was dedicated to the aspect of interdependency between Democracy and Human Rights. In this session, government delegations presented ideas and proposals on the development of democratic principles in their own countries, also in view of the “Arab Human Development Report” promoted by the UNDP. There were interventions by government delegations of countries which were previously in transition and those active on an international level in the Community of Democracies, such as Chile and Romania. In addition, government delegations of countries outside the Arab Region, including those in the European Union, expressed their need to work together with Arab countries to explore national and regional ways to adhere to democratic principles, within the political and cultural context of each country, and the means by which they could best help their Arab and regional partners in the pursuit of such goals.
The third session – “The Role of Civil Society in the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights” – [Final Report] was dedicated to the role of civil society in promoting democracy, human rights and the International Criminal Court. This session was in itself an important event because it brought civil society and governments to the same table in a straightforward, equal exchange on the topics of democracy and human rights. Participants concluded the session with specific recommendations to the government delegations present at the conference on the ways in which the role of civil society may be enhanced so as to work better with government and facilitate the realisation of these goals. Information means must be free and independent from government control in order to guarantee the growth of internal democratic development; the restrictive rules imposed by Ministries on NGOs, as well as emergency laws, must be revoked in order to make place for a direct dialogue between government and civil society, allowing for exercising the rights to freedom of speech and peaceful demonstration; every form of discrimination towards women must be fought and eliminated, to ensure full respect for and guarantees of fundamental human rights.
The conference concluded with the unanimous adoption of the “Sana’a Declaration”, with which the regional delegations present made the following commitments: put into practice the principles of democracy and human rights; reinforce the role of women and their participation, protecting women from all forms of exploitation and reduction of their rights; institute a fair and independent judicial system and separation of powers; ensure equality before the law and the right to a fair trial; reinforce the role of international judicial institutions, as an important element for promoting respect for international law and human rights, with particular reference to the International Criminal Court; reinforce democracy, pluralism and establish elected legislatures that represent the will of the citizens and ensure fair representation of all sectors of society. The participants also made a commitment to work towards future means of democratic consultation and internal cooperation, in particular through the establishment of an Arab Dialogue Forum as an instrument for promoting dialogue between governments and civil society.
The event received substantial press coverage both nationally and internationally. The opening ceremony was followed live by Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabya and Yemeni State television, while all the work was transmitted in full over the Internet by the European radio “Radio Radicale”. The conference was followed by more than 200 accredited journalists.