9 October 1997

Press Briefing



Addressing correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this morning, President Arthur Robinson of Trinidad and Tobago emphasized that the proposed international criminal court was intended to protect the little people all over the world. Often people in high and powerful positions could do whatever they liked, escaping consequences and accountability. That led to cynicism about the administration of justice and purpose of law.

He said that one of the most important steps to bolster the morale of ordinary people was to demonstrate that the people at the top could be held accountable, particularly in the case of the gross violations of human rights and atrocities, such as those that had occurred in Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Burundi. The proposed court would have jurisdiction over anybody in any part of the world, which was a new concept but an old aspiration. It would be the first real opportunity in this century of achieving that through the establishment of a court.

He noted that, although there had been tribunals in the past, those were set up for specific situations. The permanent court would be set up for "us as well as for them". So it could not be said that "justice is for those people and against us". Rather, justice was for everybody and the law was for everybody. Perfection could not be achieved in the beginning, but there should be a core direction in which the world community must move and understood by everyone.

A correspondent asked how it would be possible to reconcile the notion of sovereignty with what was just explained about the court. That was a fundamental issue arising in every situation of that kind, the President responded. But every day agreements were entered into by governments, by which they subjected themselves to judicial determination of disputes. Many treaties were designed to be binding on governments and limit their activities and their sovereignty. Consequently, establishing a court by agreement would not be different from establishing restrictions by any other treaty. The mere fact of having an international criminal law was an indication that States recognized the need to observe particular rules of behaviour and so bind themselves in their conduct in relation to individual human beings as well as other States.

He was also asked whether the court would be able to bring in people from the big countries. He replied that if those governments had agreed, the court was under the obligation of prosecuting those who committed the crimes.

Trinidad and Tobago - 2 - 9 October 1997 Press Conference

What kind of powers would the proposed body have to actually bring people to court, a correspondent asked. The President replied that it could produce evidence not to convict but to show there was a cause for action. An indictment would stand as a stigma upon the person. The person, when they left their country and went to another, which had subscribed to the court, would then be arrested and brought to the court.

A correspondent asked what parameters defined what kind of crimes could be prosecuted. At the moment, discussion was limited to the core crimes, which were war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity, responded the President. There were arguments as to whether crimes against humanity were only those committed during war time or whether those committed during peacetime could be included. The tendency now was to include those committed during peacetime that had international repercussions, which may threaten peace itself. For example, if there was mass murder which led to the overflow of refugees, he added.

Should the court and its prosecutors have full independence or should it be linked to some sort of Security Council triggering mechanism? a correspondent asked. The President replied that the Security Council could have a role, but in a way that it would not give the impression that there was political interference in the functioning of the court and its administration. Firstly, the role of the Security Council should be severely limited. Secondly, the prosecutor should not be one person who was absolutely free to initiate the prosecution. One of the proposals was that the complaint should first go before a panel of judges, who would decide whether the prosecution should commence.

A correspondent asked whether environmental crimes would be included, considering their transboundary ramifications. The President replied that they would not.

Would crimes concerning women and the family be included under humanitarian crimes? he was asked. Such issues came under civil law and not international criminal law and, therefore, would not be included, the President said.

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