Copyright © 1999 News World
Published in Washingtion, D.C. ~ December 3, 1999
U.N. Crimes Court Gets Support Without U.S.
By Betsy Pisik
The United States has resigned itself to the eventual creation -- over Washington's objections -- of a U.N. International Criminal Court to be modeled after war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Even if the United States does not ratify the treaty, American citizens will be subject to arrest and trial as the treaty document is now drafted.
International backing for the court became apparent this week as legal experts gathered at the United Nations to discuss fine print in a treaty that would establish the world judicial body.
David Scheffer, assistant secretary of state for war crimes issues, acknowledged that the court is on track, even without the United States.
"We expect many nations to ratify by the end of next year," he told The Washington Times.
He also said that the presence of many U.S. allies on the court would ratchet up pressure on the United States to join, but added: "We're never going to sign a treaty we can't support."
The United States voted against creating the court last summer, saying that the structure of the tribunal would not protect American troops from frivolous or politically motivated indictments and prosecutions.
Although 90 nations have already signed the treaty, only five have formally ratified the document.
Ratification by 60 nations is required for the tribunal to begin working -- something experts expect to happen within the next two years.
Mr. Scheffer said the U.S. delegation was still hoping to secure language in the treaty that would provide protection for Americans -- enough that the United States could eventually join.
He said negotiators were hoping to make strong provisions for national prosecutions that would pre-empt the international tribunal's jurisdiction.
They are also hoping to define agreed-upon crimes and rules of procedure in such a way that U.S. troops would be highly unlikely to ever be called before the court.
Mr. Scheffer said Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was discussing the tribunal with her counterparts in numerous foreign ministries.
In voting against the court's creation, the United States was joined by a curious collection of nations: Iraq, Libya, Israel, Russia, China and India.
But supporters range from Germany to South Africa to Australia: an increasingly diverse and powerful bloc of nations that experts say will provide the political leadership and financial heft to ease concerns of smaller and more cautious nations.
All of the European Union has signed the treaty, and Italy has ratified it.
The German government on Tuesday announced that it would ratify the treaty but did not say when.
France has committed to ratifying it within the next few months. The governments of Britain, Canada and the Netherlands say they will complete ratification within the next year.
The entire European Union is expected to approve the statute by the end of 2000, said a statement read by a diplomat from Finland. Finland currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
The European Union has promised financial and legal assistance to the court, to be located in The Hague.
The court will prosecute allegations of war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity, and will do so without direct authorization of the U.N. Security Council, where the United States holds a veto.
Although it has no enforcement mechanism, all nations -- including the United States -- would be subject to the international court's jurisdiction, the treaty document says.
This means that all nations will be required to comply with the court's demands for information, evidence, witnesses and suspects, the treaty says.
"We cannot recognize the court's competence in bringing prosecutions against U.S. personnel engaged in official actions when the U.S. government is not a party," Mr. Scheffer told the U.N. legal committee in October.
The court will not be retroactive, but the existing tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia will eventually be rolled under its umbrella.
The financing of the court has not been decided, but many nations hope that the bulk of the court's expenses -- particularly in the start-up years -- will be paid from the U.N. regular budget.
This means that Washington could be assessed up to one-quarter of the court's budget, even if it does not accept the treaty.
Legal experts and delegates from around the world have repeatedly said that the court will be severely limited without the financial, legal and intelligence-gathering capacities of the United States.
"There is no doubt the court would be much stronger with the United States than without," said Bruce Broomhall, an observer with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.
However, he said, it is "out of the question" that signatories would allow Washington to renegotiate portions of the treaty.
Foreign delegates say they increasingly doubt whether Washington can be reassured.
Several nations and legal experts have complained that any protections afforded to American troops would be more than enough to shield notorious rulers such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein who could be accused of war crimes.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, has said the treaty will be "dead on arrival" if the president ever submits it for Senate ratification.
Mr. Scheffer said that U.S. officials have not yet decided whether to simply ignore the court, or actively work against it. "We're not going to make that decision until the end of next December."
Copyright © 1999 News World Communications, Inc.
TO NEW WORLD ORDER
4 dec 1999