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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Obstacles to world court
Rwanda: Scene of genocide
The UK Government is supporting plans to establish an international criminal court to try war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Draft legislation has been drawn up that will allow Britain to ratify the 1998 international treaty to establish the court. But as the BBC's Paul Anderson reports from Washington, the move requires the consent of at least 60 countries, and is strongly opposed by the United States.

At Nuremberg in 1945 the allied war crimes prosecutors were the standard bearers of international justice confronting atrocity on a massive scale.

In the 55 years since, the world has witnessed plenty more crimes against humanity.

At a conference in Rome two years ago 120 nations agreed in principle to establish what some have dubbed Nuremberg Mark II - an international criminal court designed to bring to book the perpetrators of the worst offences, like those in Rwanda.

Nuremberg 1945
The Nuremberg trials tackled Nazi crimes
The outrage at such indiscriminate slaughter led to the creation of an ad hoc war crimes tribunal for Rwanda but according to the eminent barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, there is an urgent need now to stretch the international arm of the law.

"What the international criminal court will achieve is a court for all the world," Mr Robertson says.

"The hope is that there will be so many countries prepared to extradite offenders at the international criminal court that they'll simply have no hiding place."

Economic pressure

Critics of an international system of justice say the institutions set up to dispense it are prone to political intrusion and have yet to prove themselves capable of apprehending the most serious suspects.

In the case of the Balkans these are former Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Judge Richard Goldstone was the man charged with setting up the tribunal in the Hague which will try these men if they are ever caught. But Judge Goldstone says that is not the critical issue.

This court has enormous powers that have no cheques and balances such as exist in the American legal system. It's a threat to our military, it's going to be used as a political tool by hostile countries to attack the United States

Mark Teeson, spokesman for the US Senate Foreign Affairs committee
"Of course it would be a wonderful thing if any of those three people were apprehended and brought to the Hague," Judge Goldstone says.

"But the fact that they haven't been, or even the fact that they may never be, in no way detracts from other very important successes and contributions.

"The more countries that sign up, the more difficult it's going to become, and I hope economically, for government to ignore orders made by the court," Judge Goldstone says.

'Dangerous division'

But therein lies the rub. Not everybody supports the international criminal court, including crucially the United States.

Mark Teeson, spokesman for the powerful Senate Foreign Affairs committee, says: "This court has enormous powers that have no cheques and balances such as exist in the American legal system.

"It's a threat to our military, it's going to be used as a political tool by hostile countries to attack the United States, even the Clinton administration which initially supported the idea of an international criminal court has refused to sign it.

"The outrage from our prospective is that the countries of the world basically don't care about our constitution."

Suspected war criminal Radovan Karadzic
Wanted: Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic
But Geoffrey Robertson says other countries do care. He says they have tried hard to accommodate the American reservations but have met only arrogance and self-interest.

"This is of course a completely hypocritical position for America to take," he says. "You do have at this stage America set apart from the rest of the world. Britain is on the side of the angels. America, well it's on the side of those committing torture and genocide," Mr Robertson says.

If Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, allegedly responsible for genocide against the Kosovo Albanians, were arrested as a war criminal, it would be a huge prize for the western community trying to topple him. But the argument over the international criminal court has exposed a dangerous division which could in turn weaken resolve.

The risk now if the court goes ahead, as its supporters are determined it will, is that that division will only become deeper.

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See also:

25 Aug 00 | UK Politics
UK pushes for war crimes court
14 Jan 00 | Europe
Analysis: Big fish still at large
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