New Global Criminal Court Becomes Reality
Thu Apr 11,10:17 AM ET
By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The dream of creating a permanent court to try the world's most heinous crimes became a reality on Thursday, hailed by many as a landmark human rights achievement but rejected by the United States.

World War Crimes Tribunal to Open (AP)

At a solemn ceremony at U.N. headquarters, 10 countries brought the total number of nations to ratify a Rome treaty establishing the International Criminal Court to 66 -- six more than needed to bring the treaty into force on July 1.

The 10 nations -- Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Congo, Ireland, Jordan, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Slovakia -- deposited their papers all at the same time so the honor of being the 60th state does not go only to one country.

"The required number of 60 ratifications for the entry into force of the Rome statute has been reached," said chief U.N. legal counsel Hans Corell to sustained applause. "A page in the history of humankind is being turned."

The tribunal is expected to go into operation next year in The Hague (news - web sites), Netherlands, a belated effort to fulfill the promise of the Nuremberg trials 56 years ago, when Nazi leaders were prosecuted for new categories of war crimes against humanity.

The new tribunal has jurisdiction only when countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute individuals for the world's most serious atrocities: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other gross human-rights abuses.

Cases can be referred by a country that has ratified the treaty, the U.N. Security Council or the tribunal's prosecutor after approval from three judges. But the court is not retroactive and cannot probe crimes committed before July 1.

In a rebuff to its European allies, a major force behind the court, the Bush administration rejected the entire concept of a permanent international war crimes tribunal.

And it is considering withdrawing former President Bill Clinton's signature from the Rome treaty, even though Clinton did not submit it to Congress for ratification, fearing U.S. soldiers abroad would be subjected to frivolous prosecutions.


Republican Congressmen have introduced a smattering of retaliatory legislation, ranging from forbidding any U.S. contact with the court and punishing those ratifying the treaty to using force to free any American brought to The Hague.

Still, when the statute for the court was approved in Rome in June 1998, diplomats believed it would take between 10 and 20 years to ratify, said Phillipe Kirsch, the Canadian head of the court's preparatory commission.

The impetus to establish the court came after the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The U.N. Security Council has established temporary or ad hoc tribunals to try individuals for atrocities committed. The new court would replace such tribunals in the future.

Wars have changed in the last 50 years, with civilians increasingly becoming the main target. Some 86 million men, women and children died in 250 conflicts around the world, according to the Coalition for an International Criminal Court, an umbrella group of 1,000 organizations.

During that period, more than 170 million people were stripped of their rights, property and dignity. "Most of these victims have been simply forgotten and few perpetrators have been brought to justice," the coalition said.


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