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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Q&A: International Criminal Court
The world's first permanent war crimes court has been lauded by many as a giant step for humanity. It will have universal jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Barnaby Mason, examines the main issues behind the creation of the court.

What is the court designed to do?

To prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes - genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes - committed anywhere in the world.

It will be a court of last resort, intervening only when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.

Aren't there already several international courts?

Yes, but they either do different jobs or have a limited remit.

The International Court of Justice (sometimes called the World Court) rules on disputes between governments. It cannot prosecute individuals.

The international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda do try individuals for crimes against humanity, but only those committed in those territories over a limited time.

The tribunals will eventually be wound up. The new International Criminal Court, however, is a permanent body.

Are there any time limits on what it covers?

First of all, the court has no retrospective jurisdiction - it can deal only with crimes committed after 1 July 2002 when the 1998 Rome Statute came into force.

Then, the court will have automatic jurisdiction only for crimes committed on the territory of a state which has ratified the treaty; or by a citizen of such a state, or when the United Nations Security Council refers a case to it.

How will the system work?

The prosecutor will begin an investigation if a case is referred either by the Security Council or by a ratifying state. He or she can also take independent action, but prosecutions have to be approved by a panel of judges.

Both the prosecutor and the judges will be elected by the states taking part in the court. Each state may nominate one candidate for election as a judge.

Who has agreed to co-operate with the court?

Seventy-six states have ratified the Rome Treaty so far - and have therefore bound themselves to co-operate - of the 139 that have signed and may ratify it in the future.

Why isn't the United States involved?

During the negotiations on the treaty, the Americans argued that their soldiers might be the subject of politically motivated or frivolous prosecutions.

Various safeguards were introduced partly to meet this objection.

Bill Clinton did eventually sign the treaty in one of his last acts as president; however, the Bush administration is adamantly opposed to the court and to any dilution of American sovereignty in criminal justice.

The US threatened to pull its troops out of the UN force in Bosnia unless they were given immunity from prosecution by the ICC. In a much-criticised decision, the Security Council voted on 12 July on a compromise that gives American troops a 12-month exemption from prosecution - to be renewed annually.

Washington could decide to co-operate with the court in particular cases, but members of Congress have proposed measures to prevent that.

The court's operation will also be seen as weakened without US involvement.

Are there other dissenters?

Yes, a number of important countries seem determined not to submit to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Some have not even signed the treaty, such as China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey.

Others have signed but remain dubious and have not ratified, for example, Egypt, Iran, Israel and Russia.

It is unlikely that alleged crimes against humanity in those states will be prosecuted.

Any other problems?

There is a danger that the court will be seen as geographically unrepresentative and Western dominated.

Only one Arab state has joined so far - Jordan - and hardly any from Asia. European officials reply: "If you want to influence the way the Court is run, ratify the Treaty."

How does it fit in with each nation's judicial system?

States that join the treaty will probably want to make sure that they themselves are able to prosecute all the crimes that it covers - otherwise the court may intervene.

Some governments have already introduced legislation to make changes to their own judicial systems.

Who is paying?

The states which take part. This will be according to the same rules that govern their contributions to the UN - roughly based on their national wealth.

The absence of the US and Japan in particular will make the funding of the court more expensive for others.

Germany, France and Britain will be the largest contributors, at least at first.

See also:

14 Mar 02 | In Depth
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