On the eve of President Bush’s state visit to Britain, the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair strongly criticized the administration’s campaign against the International Criminal Court, saying its concerns are “not well founded.”
Cherie Booth, a leading human rights lawyer, levied the criticism yesterday during a panel discussion on human rights and international law at Georgetown University. Most of her remarks were an academic and historical overview of the development of international law, but she devoted a substantial portion to countering Bush’s arguments for rejecting the court.
The administration, which removed the United States from the treaty establishing the court signed by President Bill Clinton, has argued that with peacekeeping missions around the world, U.S. military personnel would be subject to whims of an “unaccountable prosecutor and its unchecked judicial power.” The administration has not only rejected the court, designed to deal with war crimes and genocide, but pressured countries to sign bilateral agreements that would exempt the United States from the court’s jurisdiction. Seventy countries have signed such agreements, though few are in Europe.
One hundred thirty-two countries have signed the treaty creating the court, and 92 have ratified it. Judges and a prosecutor have been selected, and Booth said its first case is likely to concern Congo.
Booth noted that Britain is a strong supporter of the court and has concluded that its citizens are not threatened by its existence. “With time we can but hope the U.S. will come to share that perspective with regard to its own people, and recognize that the concerns it has expressed — legitimate as they may now seem — are not well founded,” Booth said. “The absence of the United States means we all stand to lose.”
Booth said the treaty establishing the court “has it flaws” but she was “convinced the international criminal court with independent prosecutors putting tyrants and torturers in the dock before independent judges reflects the postwar [post-World War II] human rights aspiration come true. It is a shining example of how human rights might be realized under international law.”
Booth said that while the administration says the court will expose its citizens to politically motivated prosecutions, “the U.S. appears unwilling to see there are various safeguards built into the stature, which ensure that all states have nothing to fear from the court.”
The court, she said, would only take on a case if a country has no functioning judicial system or if it refused to investigate a case without adequate explanation. The court “buttresses but does not override national judicial systems,” she said.
“It seems inconceivable that a state committed to the rule of law, such as the U.S., would refuse to investigate and prosecute its nationals should there be reliable evidence that they had been involved in international crimes,” she said.
But in the speech earlier this month, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton rejected this argument. He said this theory is untested, and “whether and under what circumstances the ICC’s prosecutor will accept assertions of national jurisdiction remains essentially unknown.”