The Hon. Dr. Marc Verwilghen (Former Minister of Justice of Belgium)

12.05.2011 - Interview conducted by Claire Bourdon & Freja Thies

Q1. Do you think that the world has learned from the tragedy of genocide in Rwanda and the Balkans, and do you fear that we might be asking ourselves how genocide occurred in Libya in years to come?

Firstly I think that the severe experiences of Rwanda, in ex-Yugoslavia are very important because they are a little bit at the base of the fact that today we have an International Criminal Court. Personally I visited Rwanda ten years after the end of the genocide, and I have to say that the impact of the genocide on the population -and even on Belgium as we lost fifteen soldiers who were also murdered- had a very important and very deep influence, especially on our parliament. That is why in 1993, but especially in 1999, we have chosen for an implementation of a new law to fight against genocide, and we took the decision to speak about universal competences, that we introduced in our law system. Personally I think that for the future or what happened in Rwanda and in ex-Yugoslavia, but also the new judgments that arrived from the international criminal court, should be of importance for the tackling of the phenomena of genocide, that cannot longer stay unpunished.

Q2. In your opinion, how can the European external service deal with the migration across the Mediterranean Sea?

For the moment, this is an extremely high problem that is caused by the Northern part of Africa. Many people are leaving their home countries because they live in incertitude. On the other side and since a long time, there is also the economical migration, where people are looking out for more happiness and to have a more pleasant life in Europe. I think that we should work in a closer collaboration between all the European states to control this effect. Because we are not able to receive everybody, and on the other side I think that we do not give a good sign if at a certain moment, we should make the construction of what we called the fortress of Europe. So we have to find a good balance between the two aspects and I hope there will be uniformity and collaboration on the European field. This is not so evident, because the countries like France or Italy have asked already to let go the Schengen agreement and to make more control at the border.

Q3. Do you think that soft power, inter-state, intra-state and civil society initiatives have legitimacy in parts of the world that have been devastated by genocide, to the extent as in the case of Rwanda, but also the Balkan countries?

Yes it could be in our position. There is genocide. That is an extremely strong crime, versus soft approach. But what I have heard today in the Symposium is a very good approach. Because soft approach means that all other elements besides the rules of law could be taken in consideration to resolve the problems in the field of genocide. The cultural differences- the fact that people are in dialogue over these kinds of problems, out of the only brutal and military way- is for me an approach that is certainly needed on the international level.

Q4. Europeans have sometimes been accused of stereotyping religious minorities, thus resulting in persecutions, most notably in the case of Jewish population. In modern times, it appears that some Europeans have misconceptions about Islam. Do you see a trend continuing?

There is a fear that it is continuing, yes. When sixty years ago, Mr. Lemkin took himself the initiative of creating the notion of genocide, it was because of the Holocaust. Then it was the Jewish people that were persecuted. For the moment we see that in Europe, and all over the world, also the ideas about Islam are most of the time based on misinformation, ignorance on the base of the religious convictions of people. So I think it is necessary by education, by formation, by training, to explain to all kinds of people what the differences are. There are more advantages than disadvantages from this diversity, but it has to be explained. So there is a long term educational approach, and I hope that the generations that will follow up will continue with this work, and will explain to people that a multiculturalism and multi-religions approach could be extremely important for understanding each other.

Q5. In the European Union, what makes the electorate perceive minorities in a negative way, and what can we do to improve this situation?

The only thing to improve a positive approach for any minority is to explain what is going on with these minorities, what are their principles, having most of the times from humanist origins. I think that we have to try to learn each other on a better and more appropriate way. This is the only condition for a mutual understanding. This is also the richness of our society.