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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 13:18 GMT
Conference gears up for world court
Human skulls from the Rwandan genocide
The new court will cover all countries and continents
By the BBC's Geraldine Coughlan in the Hague

Legal and military experts and politicians are meeting at a three-day conference in the Hague to discuss preparations for the opening of the planned International Criminal Court.

The new court will have the power to try individuals from any country for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

US President George W Bush
America: suspected of double standards
But only 47 of the necessary 60 countries have so far ratified the court's statutes and there is concern over the lack of support for the initiative from the United States.

Unlike previous preparatory conferences on the new court, this one, which began on Wednesday, has a distinctly political tone.

The Netherlands as a host country is particularly concerned at the Bush administration's reluctance to ratify the court's treaty.

'Shameful'

The US Senate passed a bill earlier this month exempting American citizens from being detained by the court, which will be based at the Hague.

Nuremburg trials
The Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals are a precedent
This drew strong reactions from Dutch MPs who termed the move "shameful, counterproductive and a slap in the face for those countries that do want an international court".

The burning question during this conference will be how the US can expect international support in its fight against terrorism when it will not back the first global institution that could try suspects such as those responsible for the 11 September attacks.

Experts are optimistic that the US will come on board in time, but with or without the support of the most powerful nation, the International Criminal Court is set to open its doors in around six months' time.

See also:

25 Aug 00 | World
Obstacles to world court
04 Jul 01 | Talking Point
Is it time for a world court?
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