New global criminal court starts Congo probe

UNITED NATIONS: The chief prosecutor for the new global criminal court says he intended to make reported massacres and other crimes in the eastern Congo region of Ituri his first subject of investigation.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine, told representatives from 91 nations who have ratified the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court that rights groups estimated at least 5,000 civilians died in Ituri since July 2002.

At the same meeting on Tuesday, delegates elected Belgian Serge Brammertz as the deputy prosecutor in charge of investigations. Brammertz has been a prosecutor in his country for 14 years.

As the first permanent global criminal court, the ICC was set up to try individuals for the world’s worst atrocities – genocide, war crimes and systematic human rights abuses – in a belated effort to fulfill the promise of the Nuremberg trials that prosecuted Nazi leaders after World War 2.

The new court is independent from the United Nations.

Moreno-Ocampo, in a speech to delegates, said the crimes reported in Ituri could fit into all the categories within the jurisdiction of the court, set up in The Hague, Netherlands.

“Mass killings are just one type of crime being committed in Ituri,” he said. “Crimes specifically targeting women and children are also widespread in the area, according to UNICEF reports. Hundreds of women and girls are being raped, mutilated and killed in the province.”

He said his office would co-operate with national authorities by prosecuting leaders who bear most responsibility for the crimes. Congo leaders, he said, could implement “appropriate mechanisms” to deal with other individuals responsible.

Moreno-Ocampo gave no date for the investigations to be completed but asked for support from nations that have a role in the peace process for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The United States has campaigned vigorously against the court, which is strongly backed by allies in the European Union and Canada. It fears its officials could the subject of frivolous prosecutions but supporters of the court say there are enough safeguards to prevent this.

Bill Pace, head of a coalition of groups backing the court, told a news conference the Bush administration had spent more money cajoling countries to sign separate agreements promising not to prosecute Americans than the court is expected to spend in a year.

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