Conference – McCormack and McDade

By Hanne Melgård Watkins
Birds on collage backgraound

On Friday 22 July 2011, Monash University’s Castan Centre for Human Rights Law Annual Conference was held in Melbourne. Right Now writer Hanne M Watkins attended the post-lunch session, during which Professor Tim McCormack and Brigadier Lyn McDade spoke to an attentive audience.

The topics presented for discussion during my session at the Human Rights Conference were military justice (McDade) and the International Criminal Court (McCormack). As a non-law student, I initially felt a little bit daunted. Thankfully, I quickly realised that my worries were unfounded.

McCormack was first to speak. After a joke about John Howard and “the other ICC”, he set about exploring the limitations and promises of the International Criminal Court. Three main criticisms of the ICC were rebutted.

McCormack was first to speak … he set about exploring the limitations and promises of the International Criminal Court.

The first criticism often raised against the ICC is that since its inception in 2002, it has not completed a single case. I was somewhat dismayed, but McCormack advocated for patience. Establishing a court takes time, and McCormack predicted that three or four cases would be concluded by 2014.

The second common criticism, according to McCormack, is that the ICC is Africa-centric. It is true, to some extent: most of the ICC’s current cases concern African nations. However, in addition to echoing his own response to the first criticism, by suggesting that time will help expand the ICC’s horizons, McCormack pointed out that the ICC prosecutor only initiated proceedings in Kenya on his own. The other African cases either self-referred to the ICC, or were referred by the UN Security Council.

Finally, it is claimed that those charged by the ICC – Bashir was given as an example – cannot be arrested. I felt it was safe to hazard a guess as to how McCormack would respond in this case: give it time. The same cries were raised when Karadzic and Milosevic were indicted.

Time alone cannot solve all of the ICC’s problems however, and McCormack acknowledged that it is not yet the impartial and structured system that one might hope for. Nonetheless, he was optimistic about the future, and suggested that Australia can do more to try international war criminals.

Time alone cannot solve all of the ICC’s problems … McCormack acknowledged that it is not yet the impartial and structured system that one might hope for.

Brigadier McDade brought the discussion closer to home by elaborating on the ins and outs of military justice in Australia. Although she started off by saying that she would not be telling any jokes – apparently being wary of what she says in a public forum – there were moments of incredulous amusement in her examples of “soldiers behaving badly”. It would appear that if a soldier commits a traffic offence on civilian roads, but wants to avoid losing their licence, they might succeed if they are tried by a military court instead of the regular one – which seems rather sneaky to me! And I may have misunderstood – the main impression I got was that the overlap between civil and military tribunals is constantly being negotiated.

This negotiation naturally has implications for the responsibilities of soldiers – are these responsibilities above and beyond those of ordinary citizens? Are “regular” crimes committed by soldiers “worse” because of the potential impact on morale? It was an interesting question, and this focus on responsibilities brought us into question time. The audience was clearly very engaged and interested both in international issues and in Australia’s role in the international community.

… are [soldiers’] responsibilities above and beyond those of ordinary citizens?

As we dispersed for afternoon tea the room was abuzz with chatter, as scores of people with a passion for human rights swapped thoughts and ideas around their coffee cups. I found myself some biscuits and joined the nearest discussion.

Listen to the full speeches by McCormack and McDade here, and let us know what you think!

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