War crimes court to receive judges

BBC, Mar. 11, 2003
http://news.bbc.co.uk/

The world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal is due to be inaugurated at The Hague on Tuesday with the swearing in of its judges.

Eleven men and seven women will preside over the International Criminal Court (ICC), set up to try individuals accused of heinous atrocities.

They will be sworn in by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, in the presence of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

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But the court still needs to appoint a prosecutor, and it is not expected to try any cases for at least a year.

Numerous countries, including the United States, have refused to endorse the new court, fearing it will be used for politically-motivated prosecutions.

Deterrent

Supporters have praised the ICC as an important step forward for human rights.

“The mere existence of the court and the possibilities of being held accountable will hopefully deter the committing of war crimes and crimes against humanity, genocide and other human rights violations,” said Navanethem Pillay, one of the court’s new judges.

The court has already received more than 200 complaints waiting to be investigated, although it will be up to a chief prosecutor to decide whether to proceed with any of the cases.

ICC member states are expected to select a chief prosecutor in April, but there will still be a long way to go before the court sees its first suspect.

“It will be many, many months before you might see a trial or even the completion of a major investigation,” said William Pace of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC).

Opposition

The court has already run into difficulties.

Almost two-thirds of countries which signed the 1998 Rome Treaty to set the court up have not yet endorsed it.

The United States has withheld support, fearing its citizens might become targets for politically-motivated persecution.

It has signed agreements with 24 other countries guaranteeing immunity for American subjects in those countries.

Russia and China have also refused to ratify the treaty.

Despite its wide remit, the ICC will be able to try crimes only committed after 1 July, 2002, and only when states are unwilling to take action against suspected individuals themselves.

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