Press Briefing


The entire global legal environment will be different at midnight on Monday 1 July when the Rome Statute goes into force, a representative of the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court said this morning at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by Canada’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

The Court was the first permanent and independent tribunal capable of trying individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, continued William Pace, Convenor of the NGO Coalition.  It was one of the greatest instruments of peace ever created, equal to the United Nations Charter.  It was a new system of criminal justice, a victory for the new diplomacy and for international law-making.

Mr. Pace was one of five speakers at the press conference held to address aspects of the Rome Statute and of recent United States activities in regard to the Court.  That country was not among the 139 countries which had signed the Statute and the 69 which had ratified it.

Also speaking was Marie-Claire Leman, Programme Officer of Parliamentarians for Global Action, who spoke about the next legal and financial steps needed to make the Court operational.  Pam Spees, Programme Director of the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, talked about the election of judges. 

As a Senior Associate with the International Justice Program of the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, Ken Hurwitz spoke of the United States response to the Court.  Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program for Human Rights Watch, briefed correspondents on international responses to the United States position.

The conference began with an overview by Mr. Pace, the Coalition Convenor, of key dates over the next eight months or year before the Court is ready to begin investigations and hear cases.  He said that after the Treaty goes into force, the tenth and final Preparatory Commission on establishment of the Court would begin a two-week session at Headquarters.  The next day, 2 July, was the deadline for ratifying the instrument and for participating with full voting rights in the first meeting of States parties.  On 17 July, non-governmental organizations were aiming to celebrate a World Day for International Justice.

The first meeting of the States parties will be held at Headquarters from 3 to 10 September, he continued.  They will address budgetary and procedural aspects of the Court’s operations, including the nomination of 18 judges and a prosecutor.  Those would all be elected at a resumed meeting in January.  The Queen of the Netherlands will inaugurate the Court in February 2003, and the judges and Assembly will elect a Registrar in the spring.  That will complete the election of officials needed to run the new international organization.

Elaborating on the Assembly’s work, Ms. Leman of Parliamentarians for Global Action described the process of setting up the Trust Fund for Victims, which would serve for both retributive and restorative justice.  She also said a major task before the Assembly was to elaborate a definition of the “crime of aggression”.  In response to a later question, she also emphasized the need to distinguish between a “crime” and an “act” of aggression.

Ms. Spees of the Women’s Caucus said trust-building was key in the election of the Court’s judges and its prosecutor.  She said the process must be transparent.  Greater accountability had to be ensured than was in evidence at the last Preparatory Commission, which was characterized by inertia.  The situation had improved towards the end of the session, largely because Hungary and Liechtenstein had mobilized the effort and made progress in resolving differences over achieving fair representation, both of women and of geographical regions.  While some States were against equal representation on the Court, it was generally agreed that it was now top-heavy with Western Europeans.

Mr. Hurwitz of the Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights described the bills passed by the United States Congress to affect the international community’s relations with the Court.  On 23 May, for example, a supplemental defence appropriation bill was passed:  it included an amendment sponsored by Congressman DeLay that constituted a hard version of the previously passed American Servicemembers’ Protection Act.  Like the previous versions, it prohibited cooperation with the Court and required an exemption from the Court’s jurisdiction for peacekeeping.  It would punish non-major United States allies by forbidding military aid to countries that ratified or cooperated with the Court.  Most notoriously, the Act provided for a broad range of war powers, authorizing the President to take any measures necessary to liberate a United States national from the “clutches of the Court in The Hague”, including invasion.

On 6 June, he continued, a supplemental appropriation bill was passed in the United States Senate.  It provided a waiver entitling the President to override the earlier Act.  The Senate could possibly take that up as early as tomorrow, and there was cautious optimism about it.  However, such a “waiver” was dangerous, and similar to the 6 May “unsigning” of the Treaty.  It turned the Statute into mere rhetoric and was a huge “thumb in the eye” of the country’s closest allies, all of whom had signed the Treaty.  That was happening because the present administration was presenting international law as a “feel-good”, substanceless entanglement in non-American institutions.  It seemed willing to jettison decades of progress in international law for short-term gains.  Pressure should be put on the administration to keep it from continuing to undermine international law.  It should be made to understand that international treaties helped advance the country’s interests by putting moral pressure behind its aims.

Expanding on international responses to the United States position, Mr. Dicker of Human Rights Watch said the world would be different on Monday because the area of impunity long enjoyed by those responsible for genocidal crimes would shrink considerably.  That was the framework for discussions being held in the Council and across the street at the United States Mission to the United Nations, which was trying to use the Council as a battering ram against the Court’s integrity.  It was putting a hold on the Bosnia peacekeeping operation and on the 25 per cent United States contribution to peacekeeping as hostages to it will.  The only explanation was the wildly exaggerated intensity of some in the present administration who both opposed peacekeeping and despised the strengthening of international law.

He said the signers and ratifiers of the Treaty should make sure that the Council was not manipulated into amending a multilateral treaty, particularly of this one’s importance, at the behest of any one country.  The current proposals on the table were “decidedly unacceptable”.  All efforts to segregate peacekeeping operations from the Court’s core functions were unacceptable.  The Treaty’s integrity must not be pierced, since the issue went beyond the Court to the entire basis for treaties and international legislation.  The United States was trying to

go through the back door via the Council, in order to get what it could not achieve through negotiations.  That was a bad precedent.

In response to a question, he said there was no way to stop others on a regional level from following that precedent.  To another questioner, he said United States allies were particularly concerned about the United States position because it had sent no delegation to the last two preparatory sessions and was not expected to send a delegation to this one.  Since the United States was not participating in negotiations, he called on the Security Council to hold firm and not capitulate to United States demands.

Asked about countries that might be subject to the Court’s jurisdiction after Monday, Mr. Pace noted that the Democratic Republic of the Congo had ratified the Treaty, as had Uganda and Cambodia.  Many Balkan countries had signed, and Colombia was close to signing.  Many of the world’s 40 or so trouble spots would come under the Court’s jurisdiction, he said.

Asked to comment on the ruling by Belgium that Israel’s Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, would not be indicted, he said the ruling was regressive and was contrary to both Belgian law and practice.  He could not comment on whether the ruling reflected outside influence.

Responding to questions on the definition of aggression, Mr. Dicker said that issue had become a most elaborate vehicle of misinformation.  Mr. Pace said views on the matter did not conform to traditional geographical breakdowns.  Mr. Hurwitz said that the definition would not be proposed to the Court until 2009.  It would have to be ratified by seven eighths of States parties.  It would be defined within the context of the Council.

Asked what positions were being taken on the situation, Mr. Dicker summarized the offensive the United States was waging against the Court and said it sought 100-per-cent protection.  As a matter of principle, Human Rights Watch was opposed to strong-arming small countries to secure impunity for United States nationals.  Mr. Pace said that for the Coalition, the issue at heart was that there could be “no immunity for impunity”.

When asked what would happen after Monday without United States participation in the Court, he said the legal environment would be changed.  When the sun continued to rise each morning after that, and no United States national was dragged before any court, fear would begin to die down in those now so vehemently opposed to the Court.  

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