Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

War Criminals Face New Court ; the UN's Vision for a Standing International Criminal Court Comes True Today, despite US Criticism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

War Criminals Face New Court ; the UN's Vision for a Standing International Criminal Court Comes True Today, despite US Criticism

Article excerpt

In the teeth of US opposition, the first permanent international court to try the most heinous crimes against humanity will see the light of day today, when the 60th government to ratify the International Criminal Court declares itself.

Had such an institution existed before, it might have tried former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, the authors of atrocities in Sierra Leone, or Russian soldiers accused of war crimes in Chechnya.

Human rights activists are delighted at what they see as the dawn of a new era for international justice, denying war criminals the near total impunity they have until now enjoyed. The US administration, however, calling the court deeply flawed, has said it wants no part of it.

The new court, due to set up shop next year in The Hague, will try individuals for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity if national courts do not prosecute them properly.

"Millions of people were victims of those sorts of crimes in the 20th century, and in most cases the perpetrators were allowed to plan and carry out their crimes in the knowledge they would not be held accountable," says Jonathan O'Donohue, a legal expert with Amnesty International. "The ICC sends a message that they may be held accountable."

US officials, while voicing support for efforts to bring war criminals to justice, say they fear the court could become a launchpad for politically motivated trials of US servicemen deployed abroad. Washington also objects to the way the court's statute gives it jurisdiction even over citizens of countries that are not party to its founding treaty.

The ICC "lacks the essential safeguards to avoid a politicization of justice," the roving US ambassador for war crimes issues, Pierre- Richard Prosper, told a congressional committee recently.

Mr. Prosper has also suggested that the administration might "unsign" the treaty to emphasize its rejection. Former President Bill Clinton signed the ICC treaty on Dec. 31, 2000, the last day it was open to signature, though he never sent it to the Senate for ratification.

Washington's hostility to the ICC puts it at loggerheads with its closest allies, even those who also regularly deploy troops overseas. Turkey is the only NATO member not to have ratified the treaty.

A permanent criminal court has been on the United Nations agenda for more than half a century, but the massacres in Cambodia, Rwanda, and the Balkans lent urgency to the project.

When the ICC treaty was concluded in 1998, diplomats expected it to take 10 years to gather the 60 ratifications needed to establish the court. In fact, the ICC has gathered 56 ratifications and will come into existence on July 1, after the ratifications today by Cambodia, Ireland, Romania, and Bosnia. The court, due to install itself in temporary quarters in The Hague next spring, will not consider cases that occurred before July 1. …

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