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Sunday, 31 December, 2000, 23:22 GMT
Analysis: What will the court do?
Skulls and bones from Cambodia's Khmer Rouge victims
Those accused of Cambodia's atrocities could be tried
By the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt

With the United States as one of the signatories, the chances of the International Criminal Court (ICC) becoming a reality in the next couple of years are greatly increased.

At the moment the only international criminal courts are those set up to deal with specific countries and conflicts.

So the UN has created a war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and another to try cases arising out of the genocide in Rwanda.

But there is no international court yet to try those who committed dreadful acts in Cambodia, for instance, or Sierra Leone.

Supporters hope that by being a permanent body, the new court will be able to deliver swifter justice and, thereby, act as a greater deterrent.

Remit

It will be able to try suspects from any country, provided that the crime is serious enough - genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity - and provided that their own national jurisdiction is unwilling or unable to prosecute.

This could be for political reasons, perhaps because the court system has collapsed, or because international co-operation is needed to bring the accused to justice.

The court will be able to issue an international arrest warrant, obliging all countries participating in the court to arrest the suspect.

To sign the treaty is largely a symbolic act - signing does not commit a country to the more important step of ratifying the treaty.

But even if Israel and the United States do not proceed to ratification, it seems certain that enough other countries will for the court to come into existence.

And then it will claim the right to try citizens of any country, whether that country has ratified the treaty or not.

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See also:

17 Dec 00 | Africa
Rwandan genocide suspects jailed
06 Nov 00 | Europe
Belgrade pledges war crimes purge
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