International Criminal Court to Be Launched This Year

Mike Wendling,

March 09, 2002

LONDON The world's first permanent international criminal tribunal will almost certainly be created by the end of the year, campaigners said Friday. U.S. citizens will be subject to the court even though President Bush and Republican leaders in the Senate have condemned it.

The International Criminal Court will become operational when 60 countries ratify the Rome Statute that set down the guidelines for the tribunal. This week, Mauritius, Macedonia and Cyprus ratified the treaty, becoming the 53rd, 54th and 55th countries to do so.

Europe has led the push for the ICC, with nearly every EU country ratifying the Rome treaty.

After the requisite 60 countries sign the treaty, the Rome Statute will officially come into force two to three months later.

William Pace, head of the New York-based Coalition for the International Criminal Court, predicted that this could happen as early as July. He noted, however, that it would take longer before the court becomes fully operational.

"It will take many more months before the elections of the prosecutor and judges are finalized and the court can begin considering cases," Pace said.

The court will be headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, where the temporary International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is sitting. reported last September that the ICC will spend $15.7 million in its first year, even if no defendants are charged and no trials are held. If the court does begin work on a case, its first-year expenditures will top $30 million, according to United Nations figures.

Foreigners Will Judge U.S. Troops

Conservative senators, led by retiring Jesse Helms, R-N.C., object to the possibility that U.S. military personnel might be put on trial in front of foreign judges under a system in which suspects would not have U.S. constitutional protections.

An amendment to the 2002 defense spending bill introduced by Helms would have cut off military aid to any country cooperating with the ICC with the exception of key NATO allies. The Senate voted down the amendment in December, but passed a House version that will ban the use of Defense Department money for ICC activities.

Clinton's Parting Insult

U.S. citizens will be subject to the ICC due to then-President Bill Clinton's signing of the Rome Statute in December 2000. Countries that do not ratify the treaty, however, will not be obligated to financially support the court. Non-ratifying countries will not be able to nominate candidates for ICC judicial posts.

In testimony before the House International Relations Committee last week, U.S. at-large ambassador for war crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper said the ICC "lacks the essential safeguard to avoid a politicization of justice."

Prosper made it clear that the Bush administration prefers the strengthening of national justice systems to an international court, and objects to the ICC's jurisdiction over countries that have not ratified the Rome Statute.

"It does not and should not have jurisdiction over a non-party state," he said.

Citizens of countries that have not signed the Rome Statute can also be tried before the court, but only if the alleged crimes occurred in a country that is a party to the treaty or if the U.N. Security Council refers the case to the ICC. Countries that have refused to sign the treaty include Libya, Iraq and China.

The court will try cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity when national courts are unable or unwilling to act. The prosecution of such crimes is currently the responsibility of ad hoc tribunals such as the courts used to try alleged war criminals from the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.


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