Press Briefing


In a few years time the 1998 Rome Conference on the establishment of the International Criminal Court would be seen as one of the most important legal conferences of the twentieth century, correspondents were told this afternoon at a Headquarters briefing concerning the Conference on the International Criminal Court Ratification in Lusophone Countries, which will be held in Lisbon, Portugal, from 19 to 20 February.

Hans Corell, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, said people had perhaps not really understood the impact that the Court would have in the world.  The Court was a new step in international criminal justice.  As Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said in 1998, "it is a gift of hope for coming generations".

Antonio Monteiro, Permanent Representative of Portugal to the United Nations, and Shazia Rafi, Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action, were also present at the briefing.

At the outset, Ms. Rafi noted that legislators for her organization had started work for the International Criminal Court as early as 1989.  Parliamentarians for Global Action was an association of legislators from 99 parliaments, acting in their individual capacity.  It had put forward many international initiatives combining the power of individual legislators working through both small- and medium-sized States and their colleagues in some of the larger countries to bring forward various international treaties and institutions. 

Mr. Corell said there was great support for the Court.  He had been present on New Year's eve when the last signatures -- Iran, United States and Israel -- of the Rome Statute had been made.  There were now 139 signatures and 28 ratifications.  Sixty ratifications were needed for the Statute to come into force.  That was why it was important for everyone to work towards the realization of the Court. 

The preparatory commission on the Court had made great progress, he said, noting that on 30 June 2000 they had presented draft rules of procedure for the Court, as well as a document entitled "Elements of Crime", which elaborated on the descriptions of the crimes set out in the Statute.  The Commission was now focusing on additional issues that must be solved, such as drafting a headquarters agreement with the Netherlands, privileges and immunities that would have to apply to the Court's judges and prosecutors and the rules of procedures for the meetings of States parties.

The Statute would not have been there without the contribution of civil society and non-governmental organizations, he said.  A few days ago he had discussed with the Secretary-General how the non-governmental organizations could best organize themselves in making a contribution to the work of the organization.  He had mentioned as one example the coalition of non-governmental organizations for the Rome Statute, where non-governmental organization spokespersons had been present at all the discussions.  That was a good model for how they could contribute to the current work. 

In that context, it was important to stress the role played by the Parliamentarians for Global Action, he said.  He noted that Trinidad and Tobago, when it had put the issue of an international court back on the United Nations agenda, had stressed the need to deal with drug-related issues.  It remained to be seen whether the Court would also focus on that type of crime when it came into operation, but it was those kinds of initiatives that brought the process forward. 

He said it was the governments who made the decision.  They were the ones who presented treaties, or in this case the Statute, to their parliaments.  It was laudable that the Parliament of Portugal was hosting the upcoming conference.  That was the kind of step that would be seen by the general public as having really contributed to the common effort.

He stressed the need to "look humbly at the future".  There was the potential for conflict in the world, and the problem the international community had always faced was impunity.  The question was how to address that impunity.  The Court was a step in that direction. 

He announced that he had just received a reply from Sierra Leone's Government that it had accepted the Secretary-General's draft agreement and draft statute for an international court there, as revised following the Secretary-General's dialogue with the Security Council.  Mr. Corell also noted that he had had a telephone call from Mr. Sok An, Senior Minister and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Cambodia, and had been led to believe that the last step in the establishment of a court for that country was for the King to sign the proposed statute.

Those two situations were examples of cases where in the future an International Criminal Court could be an instrumental tool -- as a preventive institution and as an instrument to address crimes and find those who were responsible.

Mr. Monteiro praised the work of the Parliamentarians for Global Action and that of Mr. Corell.  He said he fully subscribed to the views expressed by

Mr. Corell and had been happy to hear the announcements the Under-Secretary-General had made.

The Conference demonstrated how willing to work together the Lusophone countries were, he said.  Those countries were particularly proud to be working together on the issue of the International Criminal Court.  Parliamentarians from the seven countries were working on the process of ratification and making the importance of the Court's establishment known to the general public.

The Conference in Lisbon would be worth following, he said.  He hoped that all seven Lusophone countries would soon be able to ratify the treaty.

In response to a question, Ms. Rafi said the Parliamentarians were working with members in 70 of the Statute's signatory countries.  Workshops on the issues involved had been held in South Africa and Botswana and there would be one in Namibia.  In West Africa, the Parliamentarians had worked very intensively with the first signatory, Senegal, and work had been done in Ghana. 

It was important, with the establishment of the Court, that the legal systems and issues of good governance and parliamentary democracy in the ratifying countries improve, she stressed.  Not every problem could be assigned to an international institution.

A correspondent asked about the likelihood of the United States Senate ratifying the treaty.  Ms. Rafi noted that the Parliamentarians had members in the United States Congress and Senate.  She said she had been informed that nothing would be ratified in the United States in the next four years, because the government was so evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.  The Parliamentarians believed that too much emphasis had been placed on trying to push the State Department this way or that, and that perhaps a domestic constituency should be built up through the legal system.

A correspondent asked about support for ratification from the opposition parties in Angola and Mozambique.  Ms. Rafi said that she thought members from both sides would be coming to the Conference.  Correspondents should ask the parties themselves about their positions on ratification of the Statute.

Asked when Portugal would ratify the Convention, Mr. Monteiro said that it was just a question of time.  The Conference would help provide a clearer picture of the way forward for the Lusophone countries.

David Donat-Cattin, Senior Programme Officer, Parliamentarians for Global Action, noted that Angola was the only Lusophone country where a ratification bill was actually before the President, and that it had been there since 1 August 2000. 

Were other similar intergovernmental associations, such as the British Commonwealth and the Francophonie, being encouraged to hold such conferences? a correspondent asked.  Ms. Rafi said that both of them had been approached last year.  The Francophonie had taken initial steps.  At the recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Trinidad and Tobago, Parliamentarians for Global Action had made a presentation, she added.  Specific Commonwealth Parliamentary Association countries had gone ahead and ratified, she noted, adding that a seminar involving ideas on the Court would be held in Jamaica next month.

Asked why the Lusophone countries were so far ahead of other such bodies, Mr. Monteiro said, "We have two advantages -- we are smaller than the others and more united."  There was a permanent contact mechanism in place that worked almost every day.  Initiatives were taken by all seven countries.  Ms. Rafi added that the contribution of the individuals involved was also important.

The seven countries had very similar legal structures and traditions,

Mr. Monteiro noted.  Such special links were also key.

Ms. Rafi said the Parliamentarians were looking at early 2003 as a time-frame for achieving the 60 ratifications needed for the Statute to come into effect.  It would be a good thing if that goal were reached earlier.

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