World war crimes court faces tough choices ahead of its first investigation

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – From jungle warlords and cult leaders to bankers and presidents, prosecutors are lining up their targets for the first cases by the new permanent war crimes court.

But nearly two years after the court’s creation, it has yet to launch a full investigation, and already it is running into a dilemma that goes to the core of its independence: When does political support for the court erode impartiality?

Nearly 800 complaints of war crimes and crimes against humanity have flooded into the International Criminal Court, which has temporarily set up in a former telecommunications building. They present a grim litany of mass murder, systematic rape, child abductions and persecution.

Article continues below Ad:

America’s fight against the ICC
America employs double standards on human rights issues. While Washington chides and attacks other countries regarding real or perceived humen rights violations, the USA studiously and stubbornly refuses to acknowledge – let alone address – America’s own human rights violations. Meanwhile the USA fights against international justice by lying about the International Criminal Court, and by bribing and threathening countries into siding with Washington.
Former Nuremberg prosecutor, Benjamin Ferencz:
the American public has been deceived” (RealPlayer)

But most complaints are disqualified by the court’s rigid jurisdiction limits. Unless the UN Security Council intervenes, only people from countries that have signed the court’s founding treaty – 94 so far – can be prosecuted.

That means citizens of the United States, Russia, China, Israel, Iraq and all other Arab countries except Jordan are beyond reach. Thus, the court has no jurisdiction to try either ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein or U.S. soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

In the 94 signatory countries, the court’s prosecutors can initiate investigations if they see war crimes going unpunished, or a government may ask the court to prosecute its own citizens.

Uganda has made such a request. In January, President Yoweri Museveni asked the court to prosecute leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a ruthless rebel group known for kidnapping children to use as fighters or sex slaves. It is led by Joseph Kony, a cult figure who shrouds himself in the Bible and magic powers.

Museveni’s appeal was seen as a coup by Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, bolstering the tribunal’s legitimacy.

But human rights groups say Museveni, who seized power in 1986, also should be investigated for alleged abuses by Ugandan troops. They criticized Moreno-Ocampo for appearing with Museveni to announce the impending investigation of the rebels, noting Moreno-Ocampo made no reference to excesses by the Uganda military.

A failure to investigate both sides of the conflict could risk appearing biased. Yet, an investigation of Uganda’s military might risk Museveni’s government ending its co-operation on any cases, although Museveni reportedly has promised to co-operate should he be investigated.

Michail Wladimiroff, a Dutch lawyer who defended the first suspect at the special Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, said the International Criminal Court must guard against wading into politics.

“They can’t escape negotiating with governments, but he (Moreno-Ocampo) wasn’t as tactful as he could have been. He has to avoid appearing brotherly” with potential suspects, Wladimiroff said in an interview.

In April, Congo offered another boost to the court by becoming the second country to hand over jurisdiction of a case.

It involves crimes committed in Congo’s war-wracked Ituri province, and Moreno-Ocampo said the investigation would look at financiers of the tribal warfare and businessmen who stoke tribal animosities to exploit illicit trade in gold or diamonds.

Moreno-Ocampo, an Argentine, earned his reputation prosecuting members of his homeland’s former military regime, which was blamed for thousands of killings during a “dirty war” against leftist activists 25 years ago.

He is assembling a team of experienced prosecutors from around the world. Christine Chung, a veteran of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, will handle the Uganda case. Deputy Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz, a Belgian, will head the Congo investigation.

About 30 prosecutors have been recruited, many lured from the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. They are among nearly 200 full-time employees from 35 countries who are sifting through complaints and preparing investigations.

But the court’s first trial could be years away.

By comparison, the Yugoslav tribunal issued its first indictment within a year of its creation in 1993 and has conducted a string of trials, including the current proceeding against former president Slobodan Milosevic.

But legal experts say the comparison isn’t fair because the new court faces greater challenges, particularly the fierce opposition of the U.S. government.

“The Yugoslavia tribunal was established by the UN Security Council and had superior authority to try crimes in Yugoslavia. It could impose its will upon the Yugoslav states,” said Wladimiroff, who now represents former president Charles Taylor of Liberia.

“The ICC can only work with the co-operation of the country. It would be unreasonable to expect the ICC to have a case in no time.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Associated Press, USA
June 1, 2004
, , ,

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday June 1, 2004.
Last updated if a date shows here:


More About This Subject


Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission -- at no additional cost to you -- for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate, Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this research service free of charge.

Speaking of which: One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at

Travel Religiously

Book skip-the-line tickets to the worlds major religious sites — or to any other place in the world.