CNN, Mar. 11, 2003
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan inaugurates the first permanent global war crimes court on Tuesday. But Washington — which opposes the tribunal — is staying away.
The Netherlands‘ Queen Beatrix will swear in the court’s 18 judges, who were elected last month by its 89 member countries.
Human rights groups have hail the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the biggest step for world justice since the Nuremberg military tribunal tried Nazi leaders after World War II.
WAR CRIMES COURT
Created by 1998 Rome Treaty, ratified by 60 states
Came into existence on July 1, 2002; can only try alleged crimes committed since then
Has already received more than 200 complaints alleging war crimes
Initial staff of 62; full investigation and trial would require several hundred
Modeled on temporary tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia
Will rely on member states to provide funding and arrest suspects
Will try cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and yet-to-be-defined crime of aggression
Can punish war crimes in countries that have ratified the treaty if they refuse to prosecute suspects themselves; U.N. Security Council and non-party states can ask court to intervene
But Washington, fearing that American troops could face politically motivated prosecutions, strongly opposes the ICC.
U.S. President George W. Bush renounced the 1998 Rome Treaty creating the ICC, even though the administration of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, signed the agreement.
The U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Clifford Sobel, declined an invitation to join Annan and the hundreds of guests — including presidents, heads of government and foreign ministers — for the inaugural celebration in the “Knight’s Hall” of the Dutch parliament.
“We won’t be attending the inaugural ceremony because we’re not a party to the ICC, and that’s basically it,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in The Hague told Reuters.
Instead, Washington has been busy securing 22 bilateral treaties with other countries exempting U.S. citizens from the court’s authority, including its power of arrest.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has enacted legislation giving the president power to use “all means necessary” to free any Americans the court takes into custody. The new law is jokingly referred to as the “Invasion of The Hague Act.”
Tuesday’s ceremony won’t be without an unofficial American presence, though.
The man who signed the treaty on behalf of the United States, former war crimes ambassador David Scheffer, is attending.
Scheffer told The Associated Press he was “very disappointed” Washington wasn’t participating and was forfeiting its chance to take a leadership role in world justice.
“It is extremely damaging to U.S. national interests,” said Scheffer, now vice president of the U.S. United Nations Association.
He dismissed fears in Washington that the court will be biased and anti-American, and said the judges — 11 men and seven women — were of the highest integrity and largely from countries allied to America.
Likewise, Benjamin Ferencz, a war crimes prosecutor for the United States at Nuremberg, is attending. Ferencz, 82, also has raised his voice against Washington’s stance.
“The current leadership in the United States seems to have forgotten the lessons we tried to teach the rest of the world,” Ferencz wrote on his Web site.
Richard Dicker, international justice expert at Human Rights Watch, said the inauguration of the first 18 judges would help to thwart U.S. efforts to undermine the court.
“The judges’ inauguration makes this court more unstoppable than ever,” Dicker told the AP.
It could be years before the court is able to hear its first case; although its skeleton staff has been filing the hundreds of allegations of war crimes already made, the tribunal is without a courtroom or prosecutor.
Member states have been unable to find a consensus candidate for prosecutor, who may be elected in April from among a handful of candidates.
The AP quoted sources speaking on condition of anonymity as saying the candidates include Reginald Blanch, chief judge at the New South Wales District Court in Australia, and Carla Del Ponte of Switzerland, now the chief prosecutor at Yugoslav war crimes tribunal.
Canadian, Gambian and Argentine candidates have also been named, the AP said.