U.N. Creates International Criminal Court
In a United Nations ceremony Thursday, ten more nations ratified the creation of the court. Sixty-six nations have now adopted the treaty, which had been heavily promoted by European allies. A minimum vote of 60 nations was needed for the court to officially come into being.
“A page in the history of humankind is being turned,” said U.N. Undersecretary-General Hans Corell amidst sustained applause. “May all this serve our society well in the years to come!”
Speaking from Rome, where more than 100 countries met in 1998 to propose the establishment of the tribunal, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan applauded Thursday’s outcome and urged other nations to submit their ratifications.
“Those who commit war crimes, genocide or other crimes against humanity will no longer be beyond the reach of justice,” said Annan. “Humanity will be able to defend itself — responding to the worst of human nature with one of the greatest human achievements: the rule of law.”
Supporters of the ICC are hailing the announcement as a landmark achievement for human rights. The court will begin operating July 1 in The Hague.
However, the United States will continue to oppose the new legal body. The Bush administration said the court could subject U.S. soldiers and government officials abroad to frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions. The U.S. campaigned unsuccessfully to exempt U.S. military soldiers from the court.
U.S. ambassador for war crime issues, Pierre-Richard Prosper, said the ICC lacks the essential safeguards to avoid a politicization of justice.
“The U.S. opposes the court because it prefers to support sovereign states seeking justice domestically when it’s feasible and would be credible,” said Prosper. “International courts are not and should not be the first redress, but of last resort.”
Former President Clinton signed the Rome treaty in December 2000, but never sent it to Congress for ratification. In March, the Bush administration said it was considering “unsigning” the treaty and stressed that the U.S. would not be bound by provisions of the new court.
Last year, the U.S. Congress passed a bill forbidding the administration from cooperating with the court. Congressional lawmakers are also considering cutting military aid to any country that joins the ICC, excluding NATO members.
The international war court will have jurisdiction only when countries are unable or unwilling to prosecute individuals suspected of committing atrocities such as genocide, extreme human rights abuses and war crimes.
ICC members will elect 18 judges from 18 different countries and a chief prosecutor at the first ICC meeting schedule for September. Cases can be sent to the court through a country that has ratified the treaty, the U.N. Security Council or the court’s prosecutor, who must get the approval of a three-judge panel before proceeding.
The ICC has no retroactive powers and cannot investigate crimes committed before July 1 of this year.
Thursday’s announcement of the ICC surprised some global analysts who had said it would take a minimum of 10 years to get the required number of countries for ratification.
The 10 countries that submitted ratification documents Thursday include Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Congo, Ireland, Jordan, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Slovakia. All 10 nations will be listed as the 60th signor to spread the honor.