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Date: Thu, 18 Jun 98 09:41:29 CDT
From: MichaelP <papadop@peak.org>
Subject: US sinks international court idea
Organization: ?
Article: 37157
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.23343.19980623181621@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

US moves to rein in international criminal court

By Ian Black, The Guardian (London), Thursday 18 June 1998

The United States yesterday imposed strict limits on the role of a planned international criminal court, which human rights groups warned could enable any tyrant to block his own prosecution.

Bill Richardson, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told delegates to a Rome conference negotiating the establishment of the court that only the UN Security Council or a state - and not the prosecutor - could have the authority to trigger prosecutions for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The court, which is likely to sit in The Hague, will not have retroactive powers and would step in only if national judiciaries were unwilling or unable to act.

But the court, intended to avoid the need for ad hoc tribunals such as those dealing with Bosnia and Rwanda, is dividing those who want a free and independent institution and those who insist on subordinating it to national governments.

The US position is sharply at odds with Britain, Canada, and most members of the European Union, which want the court to be independent from the Security Council and its prosecutor to have powers to initiate cases across a wide range of crimes.

We must not turn an international criminal court - or its prosecutor - into a human rights ombudsman open to, and responsible for responding to, any and all complaints from any source, said Mr Richardson.

If we move too quickly, we may create a court that will appear sound on paper but collapse under the weight of its own mandate.

The US envoy also expressed opposition to the inclusion of the crime of aggression in the court's remit - though that would have allowed the prosecution of Iraq's Saddam Hussein for invading Kuwait in 1990.

Richard Dicker, associate counsel of the US-based group Human Rights Watch, said it was shameful that Washington continues to leave open the possibility that any tyrant can block his own prosecution.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, has called the court a key element of the government's ethical foreign policy.

Britain's representative, the Foreign Office legal adviser, Sir Franklin Berman, told the conference yesterday it was vital to ensure that there be neither immunity nor impunity.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, said at the start of the five-week conference on Monday that it would be better to launch a strong court without the US than a weak one with it.

France's foreign minister, Hubert Vedrine, meanwhile, argued that the court should not have automatic jurisdiction over war crimes. States would therefore not be discouraged from taking part in UN peacekeeping. Paris shares Washington's concern that its servicemen might face politically motivated prosecutions.

Opposition to a strong international court also appears to be mounting in the developing world. Iran, Iraq, Algeria, India and Pakistan are suspicious of Western double standards.