International crime court gets prosecutor

Argentinian human rights lawyer will decide which cases will go to trial; the court does not have backing of the US, Russia and China
The Straits Times (Singapore), June 18, 2003

THE HAGUE (Netherlands) – Despite continued opposition from the United States, the International Criminal Court has installed its first prosecutor, paving the way for investigations into war crimes across the world.

Renowned Argentinian human rights lawyer Luis Moreno Ocampo took the oath on Monday before the court’s 18 judges.

The court, modelled on the ad hoc tribunals set up to address crime in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after the court officially came into existence on July 1 last year.

Mr Ocampo will establish the court’s prosecution policy and decide which cases should go to trial.

His work will influence perceptions around the world of whether the court is seen as being fair and impartial.

Mr Ocampo – renowned for prosecuting members of the former military dictatorship of his country in the 1980s – made a solemn undertaking on Monday committing himself to ‘serve right and justice’, the ICC said in a statement.

The head of the international justice programme at Human Rights Watch, Mr Richard Dicker, said that to win credibility, Mr Ocampo would have to fend off political pressure and issue indictments against suspects only when prosecutors are completely ready.

He added that the first case would be crucial in forming world opinion.

‘We expect him to be impervious to any improper pressure.’

The court has received about 400 credible complaints from around the world alleging war crimes since it opened last year.

The US has rejected the court’s authority. It is concerned about becoming the target of politically motivated prosecutions.

A State Department document on Monday said Egypt, Mongolia, Nicaragua, the Seychelles and Tunisia had signed secret agreements exempting US personnel from prosecution in the court.

Russia and China have also not endorsed the court.

Last week, the US won another year-long exemption for American peacekeepers from prosecution by the court in a vote at the United Nations. — AP, Reuters

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