VANCOUVER (CP) – The International Criminal Court, which could hear its first case next year, can demonstrate its worth despite being opposed by the powerful United States by being effective, the court’s Canadian president said Wednesday.
Philippe Kirsch, the court’s first president, said 139 countries have signed and 91 of those have ratified the Rome Statute, which established the framework for the court. The court – directed at bringing individuals to justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide – came into existence when 60 countries ratified the treaty. “It has very solid backing,” said Kirsch, who flew to Vancouver from The Hague on Wednesday and was to deliver a speech Thursday night outlining the progress the court has made.
“We would wish the U.S. support the court also, but all the court can do is to behave in such a way that any apprehensions that may exist now on the part of the U.S. would be dispelled by the way the court acts,” he said.
The U.S. administration has taken steps to try to ensure that no American citizen would face trial in the international court.
Its position has been that Americans, including military personnel serving as peacekeepers, could become pawns in the settling of political scores by the country’s enemies.
The U.S. Congress has passed the American Serviceman’s Protection Act, which says the U.S. president can take “all necessary means” to secure the release of any American detained by the court.
Canada, which was instrumental in setting up the court, was the 14th country to ratify the treaty – in July 2000.
In his speech at the Vancouver Law Courts, Kirsch intends to review the reasons the court is important and its major challenges.
“The court has to show in practice that it does what it is supposed to do – that is, a purely judicial institution that meets the highest standards of justice, that is not politicized and also is effective and can deliver justice promptly.”
While it’s up to the prosecutor, Kirsch said he expects one of the court’s first cases could be in connection with the current atrocities being committed in Congo.
“He (the ICC prosecutor) announced in June he is looking at situation in the province of Ituri in Congo where clearly a number of crimes are alleged to have been committed, including murder and sexual violence,” said Kirsch, Canada’s former ambassador in Sweden.
“The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has said it is not in control of the whole territory and therefore is unable to deliver justice,” he said.
Rival tribal factions in Congo have been at war since 1998 when neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda sent troops into Congo to support rebels seeking to oust then-Congolese president Laurent Kabila. They accused him of supporting insurgents from their countries who they said were threatening regional security.
The International Criminal Court differs markedly from the International Court of Justice, he said.
The International Court of Justice, also based in The Hague, is an inter-state system that deals with a complaint by one state against another and in which both states must consent to the proceedings.
“The International Criminal Court is supposed to try people accused of major crimes, when the national systems are unable or unwilling to do it,” said Kirsch.
“The ICC has potential to deal with any crimes without limits of territory or time.”
Kirsch says the international community has waited a long time for a body like the crime court.
“It is an institution that the international community has been waiting for more than 50 years and now finally it exists.”