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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 08:17 GMT 09:17 UK
Is it time for a world court?
The idea of international justice has received a huge boost this week with the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, the first former head of state to be tried by an international tribunal.
But the court that is trying the ousted Yugoslav president only deals with alleged war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia.
Attempts to set up a permanent International Criminal Court to deal with atrocities committed anywhere in the world have met with fierce opposition - particularly from the United States which fears it might become a tool for politically motivated prosecutions of Americans.
Human rights groups hope that the court may become a reality by 2002, after 60 of the 120 signatory countries ratify the treaty which established it.
Do you think there should be a single international court to deal with war crimes no matter where they are committed? Can such a tribunal be free of political pressure? And can it be free of cultural bias?
Lyse Doucet was joined by Geoffrey Nice, an English barrister who has prosecuted two cases against suspects at the Hague, and Rodney Dixon, a former legal Adviser in the Office of the Prosecutor at the Hague, in a Talking Point phone-in programme.
Select the link below to listen to Talking Point On Air
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Z. El-Rijal, UK
Is it not also time to consider a world court for non-war crimes/ actions as well? Especially for actions such as the protection of identity (like Thompson and Venables) where details could otherwise be published outside of a country's jurisdiction on the internet with impunity.
The whole notion of a court that enforces human rights and prosecutes those guilty of crimes against humanity has an irresistible attraction, but history shows that only one side gets prosecuted, the victors dispense justice and the whole process lacks credibility. Why should the US or the UK be immune from prosecution?
How about a world jail too?
Having a world court will be another way for the US to abuse international justice. Aren't the UN/ Nato just organisations which are almost fully controlled by America?
International law is an environmental damage to the modern civil societies. White Europeans killed all the Native Americans and none of them were brought into the international court of justice.
Currently, in the USA we do not have universal health care and benefits other nations have. The USA, for right or wrong, has placed defence on a higher priority than social benefits. With that said, if my nation decides to give its law enforcement authority to some other entity, then I question the need for government in general. My tax dollars do not buy me any social benefits and if protection of citizens is negated, it should be unlawful for them to tax me for services I no longer receive.
This subject of a world court should have been addressed years ago. Wherever the trial would take place, there will always be a hint of bias, controversy or the opposite.
The International Criminal Court is a good idea. Justice is essential to preserving public order, not incidental to it. War is a brutal endeavour, but even war has rules - the Geneva Convention, the genocide convention, etc. We have countries who sign up to these international treaties but don't follow them. In any domestic situation, if you sign a contract and break it, you can be hauled off to court. What is so "politically correct" about that?
For God's sake, no! If we start with an "International War Crimes Court", it will only be as a first step to an "International Court", period. In the same way the EEC was the first step to the pan-nationalistic EU, the International War Crimes Court will be the first step to a massive, one-world government infected with the utopian notions of "Mr. Smith of Planet Earth" below. The power of government is best situated on Aristotle's Golden Mean - not too small, not too big. A one-world government is way too big and prone to dictatorial excess.
James Price, United Kingdom
The establishment of a World Court to deal with war crimes is a noble idea. The present War Crimes Tribunal is biased and a tool used by Western countries to try people of small states, who they deem as perpetrators of such crimes. Slobodan is being tried! Why not Ariel Sharon for the 1982 massacre in Lebanon or Vladimir Putin for acts in Chechnya? There is also Saddam Hussein for Kuwait attrocities;Lipeng Of China for the Tianmen massacre or similarly the crackdown in Burma; Nato as accused by Amnesty for the bombing of a building - knowing civilians are inside. So should be George Bush for the burying of 15,000 defenceless Iraqi soldiers in their trenches. George Bush at that time said there is no clean war. The same should apply in the Balkans then?
It is utopic to believe that such a tribunal could be free of poltico/cultural bias. If we stick to art.147 of the 4th Geneva Convention, V.Putin should be next, for what the Chechen people have and are enduring at the hands of the Russian army...did someone say utopia??
Aleksandar Adzic, Australia
Any Court that would apply the nebulous concepts and precedents resulting in the hanging of General Yamashita as well as in the vast majority of the Nurenberg Trials I am vociferously against. Yes, there are criminals, but No, there must not, any more, be subjective injustice by the "victors."
As I read through the comments above I see a lot of silly reasons why there should not be an international court. The facts are, some leaders believe, because they have an army, they can shoot maim and torture defenceless citizens to protect their bank accounts and position. Only a very stupid person would say that is okay. With an international court there would be something that makes these leaders feel they are not immune. It would make some of them think before they act. I hope that situation will develop because until a few years ago Pinochet thought he could perform the most outrageous crimes, likewise General Wiranto of Indonesia, Sadam Hussain of Iraq, Generals in Myanmar (Burma) various African leaders, Mugabe, etc. So it would not be surprising if half decent leaders would be tempted to go down the same road. It is unfortunate the USA feels it can support only that which it initiates. It is true that not all perpetrators will end up in court, but some will and at worst that will be a good thing.
Of course there should be a world court just like the one in Hague, and to continue the good job they're doing in trying the criminals such as Milosevic, Karadzic, Mladic etc. People like Milosevic and other war criminals simply should not be tried at home. For example, the Yugoslav Government accused Milosevic of corruption and abuse of power, not the genocide he committed against Bosnians, Croats and Albanians. That's why there should be a neutral world court that will try all the war criminals no matter age, sex, race or religion... And that's The Hague.
I would point out to some of my co-commentators that this court will enforce International Law, and not the laws of a particular state.
Look to the courts of your own land. Are they fair? Is justice the rule or the exception? All current laws and courts are wide open to political and economic corruption, not to mention personal biases.
Why would you want to add another layer of flawed government to an already top heavy world. Where do you appeal when the world court makes a bad judgment?
Whose interest is this world court going to serve? It is very appealing to have a world court. Then where do we go from here? World government, one human race, one language!
What happens to nations who do not want to go along with this? Do they even have a choice, or will they be bombed and hit with devastating sanctions if they do not hand over whoever is wanted? I never saw this coming: Democracies becoming world dictators.
The idea that law courts exist to preserve justice is a misconception. The function of the law is primarily to preserve public order and to protect property, 'justice' being (at best) a secondary consideration. It is important to remember that any international court is likely to share this characteristic.
Ahmed Hassan, Burao, Somaliland
The idea is good and a World Court will probably be set up at some stage in the future. However, at this stage, a world court should be voluntary, the reason being that the legal systems in different countries are too different to be harmonised into one system.
The rate things are going it seems that if, heaven forbid, a soldier shoots an enemy soldier in the heat of warfare, they will be hauled before war crimes courts. During war people die. War is barbaric - people being friendly and polite to each other is usually called a dinner party. The sheer barbarity of war, the fact that human lives are at stake is, at least for the most part, a deterrent to declaring war. We ignore this at our peril. Besides which, why is it that if, for example, an Allied soldier massacres a few Iraqis in the Gulf he gets prosecuted but an Iraqi commander torturing our soldiers doesn't?
Many of those who felt that Milosevic would not have a fair trial in The Hague (several talking points ago) dismissed the Yugoslav Tribunal as "victor's justice". If that is their perception, what better indication of the need for an international criminal tribunal with universal jurisdiction? Those like Gerry or Jennifer who worry about the standards applicable should click the link to the International Criminal Court web site: rape and forced pregnancy, mutilation, hostage-taking, displacing civilian populations, conscripting children, dum-dum bullets: they are all there. So are basic guarantees of fair procedure.
As well as establishing the definition of both war crimes and crimes against humanity, the other equally important principle is trial by jury (12 men, tried and true). Three judges "appointed" by who knows who is not my idea of justice.
The basic principle would be worthy but in reality the court would be set up by the rich and powerful to impose their rules on poor and powerless people. No justice but politically correct, ideological show trials! Hypocrisy at its best!
An effective world court would be an excellent way to keep the rich from stepping on the poor, the powerful from killing the weak and the north from slaughtering the south. Such a court would be doubly effective if nations could be prosecuted for the behaviour of their corporate citizens.
Leon, Manchester, UK
It is a good idea but the UN will have to write a document that will be regarded as World Laws. Is that possible? I think we all have different values and traditions but no-one should be above the law. It will help all "would-be Dictators" to understand that the world is watching them.
I think I will be good for mankind.
Interesting that all those writing in from the US are against this idea. Perhaps Americans only like the idea of being the "World Police" when they get to try and judge as well.
Chris Rushlauc, Portland, Maine, USA
The world is in a horrible mess. Liberalism has given way to Conservatism. Ronald Reagan's 1980's jingoisms that "good is bad, bad is good, homeless people love the outdoors" etc, are now the norm in the US of A. Recently, the United Nations kicked out the USA from the Human Rights Commission and for good reason, I believe. Our prisons are full of mentally retarded individuals classified as dangerous criminals by the Reagan judicial court era. That was one way of getting them off the streets because he wanted closed all mental institutions. Here, we have laws that will execute children. I believe only one other country has that law. The United Nations is our only hope for world justice, but they can also sell out (if the price is right) to the highest bidder - the WTO, for example.
I am not ready to give up my freedom so European bureaucrats can run the world.
Yes and no. No, because it would in reality only
be a Third World Court rather than a World Court. Only poor, weak or non-aligned nations would be subject to it - the West, Russia, China, and their allies would never be brought to trial for their own excesses in Indo-China, Algeria, Chechnya, Tibet, Lebanon, Palestine etc.
Yes, because some measure of justice for any violation anywhere is better than nothing at all.
George Milton, USA and Italy
It's only a matter of time until the leaders of the world realise that having countries and separate currencies and governments is pointless. A time will come, probably in 300-500 years, when there is a World Government. The Armed Services will no-longer be required and people will live in peace. There will be no need for Courts.
Carl von Clausewitz proposed that war was the 'continuation of policy by other means'. 'Justice' in any war crimes court is simply another means. The lad with the biggest stick sets the rules on how to use the stick.
Alex Banks, UK, living in Holland
It will never happen because it would mean that the US, Britain and France would be snared in their own web.
What would be the point? We already have the United Nations which at best is paid lip service to.
If the UN lacks the political and military will to step in then I fail to see who will enforce a legitimate, independent world court.
The US are against the idea which removes the one nation state that, liked/respected or not, has the muscle and will to make such a court work.
With the world becoming more factioned rather than unified, such an idea currently can only end up as a bigger laughing stock than the UN is currently.
In addition as the NATO bombing in Yugoslavia has already shown, one state's legitimate action is another state's atrocity.
CNS, Durham, England
Yes, but whose laws should we apply and whose values should be follow?
It will be foolish to believe that western values are accepted by everybody.
I am glad that Milosevic will get an unfair trial (guilty until proven innocent - the rest is just for show) as it's no less than he did to countless others. However, I find it sickening that Carla del Ponte and her buddies, choose to turn a blind eye to other war criminals. Justice? The reason true justice will never be done in the Balkans is because it would be far too embarrassing for Ms Del Ponte and her friends. Can you imagine them owning up to openly supporting other war criminals in the Balkans because it suited them at the time? (which is what they would be admitting to if they went for any of these people). Make no mistake, Nato and it's leaders, not the UN, have as much blood on their hands as anyone. They say that there are Croat and Bosnian Muslim criminals in the Hague - but where are the organisers? The people ultimately responsible? If you use this argument to prosecute Milosevic, then you must use it to get all the guilty parties and not just the ones that suit your political agenda.
Such a move cannot possibly work unless all parties sign up to a single definition of what is a "war crime". At present it seems that if, for example, the Serbs kill Albanians it counts as a war crime while if the US bombs the Chinese embassy it counts as an unfortunate accident. The eternal problem of international law is when it attempts to impose standards agreed by one group of nations on another nation that has never agreed to its jurisdiction. In this respect it has no more power than the court of one country has to intervene in the affairs of another country.
Some left wing liberals consider the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima as a war crime. Even though it ended the war and saved Japanese and American lives in the long run. If we had a world court President Harry S. Truman could of been charged with crimes against humanity. Or how about the pilots who flew the Enola Gay? Can you imagine how many people would of been killed if we had to invade Japan? The World court will never happen. It is just another example of the left in Europe trying to gain power over the rest of the world. What about the bombing in Kosovo? Didn't Nato stop genocide? It sure did. Yet I'm sure you could find a Serb or left wing liberal ready to charge Bill Clinton and NATO pilots with war crimes. The US government is right to oppose the world court.
As the Milosevic kangaroo court shows, an international criminal court would just be a tool for the passing ideological fancies of the chattering classes. The Blairites would love it as a way of settling scores against the intellectually unfashionable. The religious fundamentalists would love it as a platform for their views. The EU would use it to impose its neo-socialist collectivism. And the $100,000 a year "representatives" of the oppressed would glory in the power and perks.
In other words, a very, very bad idea. There are too many self-appointed, self-righteous, self-promoting little dictators strutting around at our expense for us to give them yet another venue to indulge their egos.
I agree that the idea of enforcing Justice on an international level is fundamentally sound. The details of the laws and the particulars of the court's jurisdiction can all be ironed out. What troubles me however is that such a body would not, in fact, be able to arrest American or Israeli generals and government officials even should the need arise. This might lead to a double standard - only leaders of small, relatively impotent nations would find themselves on trial. Were an American Secretary of State (for example) ever indicted, we would have a very grave international crisis on our hands. I find it hard to imagine the outcome in such a scenario.
Personally I think it's time that countries stopped poking their noses into the way other countries do their business and got on with looking after their own.
I hope the world court will look at previous atrocities such as the genocidal murder and mass displacement into reservations of Native Americans. Hey, isn't that what Milosevic is in The Hague accused of?
Rahul Mahajan, India
I think this is going to be another bureaucratic circus, it costs huge amount of money to maintain a tribunal with judges and administrative support making astronomical salaries and working at a snail pace. Concerning the implementation of Justice this is an illusion as it depends from what angle you see things, and this is totally linked to power and money(Milosevic case is a typical example!).
The idea is basically sound, however, some provision needs to be made to recognize the sovereign rights of individual nations. Without a provision of this type, the court will be nothing more than another attempt to erode the rights of nations and individuals.
Just another tired instance of sanctimonious Europeans thinking they have a right to moralise to the rest of the world.
Phil J, UK
Hmmm, Another layer of hand wringing liberals dictating political correctness... I don't think so!
And, whose laws will we apply in this court; strict Islamic law as interpreted by the Taleban perhaps?
03 Jul 01 | Europe
Defiant Milosevic set for Hague court
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