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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

  • Your comments since the programme
  • Your comments before the programme

    This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

    Your reaction

    Your comments since the programme

    A world court to deal with war crimes is a good idea

    Z. El-Rijal, UK
    A world court to deal with war crimes is a good idea but, it will never work because it will be under pressure form the super-power of the time to do what it wants. And us being humans we can't be 100% neutral.
    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.
    Neil, England

    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?
    Helen, Australia

    How about a world jail too?
    Thanos, Greece

    How about an International Court with different jurisdictions?

    Patrick, Austria
    Good idea! How about an International Court with different jurisdictions? One for Europe, one for USA/Canada, one for South-east Asia, one for Sub-Saharan Africa etc. That way you could adapt it to different, local cultures.
    Patrick, Austria

    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?
    Sal, UK

    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.
    Samson Nyimu, Canada

    Who are the people that compose the world court?

    Daniel, USA
    The question I raise is "Who are the people that compose the world court, where are they from, who appointed them, what qualifications do they have, etc. etc? I think they need to do a better job of educating the world about themselves before asking nations to sign away their rights and become subject to their rulings. Personally, I feel my national government exists to protect its own citizens from other nations. That is why every country has armies and heads of state.

    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.
    Daniel, USA

    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.
    Lee Grantham, Oxford, England

    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?
    Brian Farenell, Glens Falls, NY, USA

    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.
    Clint Austin, USA

    Obviously such an idea is controversial but we have to start somewhere

    James Price, United Kingdom
    I am amazed at the huge reply on this BBC site. Obviously such an idea is controversial but we have to start somewhere! People who are against the idea are only giving comfort to present and future murderous tyrants. Opponents of the court may think it is wrong, but rather be wrong and allow the scheme to operate that allow the revulsion and disgust we feel at the actions of heads of state bullies to permit them to torture their own people and think they can get away with it!
    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?
    Nilio Gumbs, Jamaica

    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??
    F Earally, Paris

    Where do you appeal when the world court makes a bad judgment?

    Martin, Minneapolis, USA
    US soldiers accused or raping underaged girls in Japan are protected by their government. Who do you think would arrest an ex US President for alleged crimes then? Not a very good joke at all.
    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."
    L. Loukopoulos, Detroit, MI USA

    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.
    Eric, Sydney Australia

    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.
    Visar Kastrati, Lake Worth, Fl(USA)

    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.
    Peter Bolton, UK in US

    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?
    Martin, Minneapolis, USA

    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!
    Chandren, Canada

    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.
    Fabrice Noucti, Cameroonian in the US

    Your comments before the programme

    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.
    Adam, London, UK

    This is the silliest show the so-called UN produced this year

    Ahmed Hassan, Burao, Somaliland
    Besides being ridiculously conceived, this is the silliest show the so-called UN produced this year for the consumption of the powerful few. Yes, in fact Milosovic is a war criminal, but selective prosecution we should not endorse, until those who committed genocidal crimes in Somaliland are also brought to justice. As long as selective prosecution is the norm, the court at the Hague will always remain and be the acme of kangaroo courts - not that different from those of Saddam Hussein.
    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.
    Garth, Zimbabwe

    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?
    Dave Tankard, UK

    Doesn't the idea of a world court assume a unified conception of "right" and "wrong"?

    Lee, Winchester
    Doesn't the idea of a world court assume a unified conception of 'right' and 'wrong'? Would this be anything more than a centralisation of power, a homogenisation of morality, and (no prizes for guessing which morality would 'win out') a major boost for western colonialism?
    Lee, Winchester

    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.
    Peter, The Hague, Netherlands

    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.
    Chris Hocking, Brisbane, Australia

    Who will organise and, most importantly, finance a world court?

    Andrej, Russia
    Who will organise and, most importantly, finance a world court? The UN's experience with The Hague tribunal (one of the many projects that rely on a few stable and wealthy sponsors, most notably the US) shows that there is no impartial force above us all qualified enough to be a universal judge. Except, maybe, God, but he's not sending us any tribunals.
    Andrej, Russia

    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!
    DJ, England

    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.
    Robert, USA

    It's an excellent idea

    Leon, Manchester, UK
    It's an excellent idea because it means that no-one will be able to escape justice (provided of course we keep the do-gooders out), but there are too many problems in the way. I can't see every country signing up for it because of the diverse differences in laws all around the world. Policing certain countries to make sure they uphold international law would also be a problem (could you see Iraq co-operating?) so corruption is obviously a very real sticking point. Dishing out justice, it seems, is best left to the West.
    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.
    Richard T, Houston, TX

    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.
    John McClain, Hawaii, USA

    Having a regular venue would bring all the machinations into one forum

    Chris Rushlauc, Portland, USA
    Having a regular venue would bring all the machinations into one forum. So, if a nation were to avoid jurisdiction, say, by disputing the impartiality of the judges, this would be hashed out in the open, not behind the scenes in a Security Council corridor somewhere. Not total transparency, but more transparency.
    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.
    Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico, USA

    I am not ready to give up my freedom so European bureaucrats can run the world.
    Richard T. Ketchum, USA

    The potential for abuse seems staggering

    David, USA
    As some others have so rightly pointed out, what is the definition of a war crime? Under standards being used now, not only could the Blitz of WWII fall under that category, but the bombing of Dresden, as well as the dropping of both A-bombs might have been classified. While certainly the Holocaust would be recognised as a war crime, would incidents like Mi Lai also fall under that category? There seems to be too much disagreement over definitions for a World Court and war crimes to have any meaningful purpose. The potential for abuse seems staggering.
    David, USA

    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.
    M. M. Zaman, UK in US

    Having such a mechanism virtually guarantees that it would be abused

    George Milton, USA and Italy
    Probably not a good idea. It might discourage participation in diplomacy as fears would arise that every apparent slight might lead to a proceeding. Having such a mechanism virtually guarantees that it would be abused and I believe that this could have a chilling effect on cooperation.
    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.
    Mark Smith, Planet Earth

    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.
    Steve Handley, UK

    NATO breaks the rules too

    Alex Banks, UK
    What a great idea. NATO breaks the rules too, it's just that because they're the victor they're immune from prosecution. I'm sure the Chinese would be champing at the bit to get Clinton in the dock for being responsible for the accidental bombing of their embassy in Belgrade. Then Thatcher could always be cited for authorising the destruction of the Belgrano as it was sailing away from the Falkland Islands. Many of our Western leaders could be called.
    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.
    Milenko, USA

    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.
    Neil, UK

    It should put a stop to allegations of kangaroo courts and victor's justice

    CNS, Durham, England
    It's a much better idea than setting up ad-hoc courts for every individual war. If it can keep up a good record over a few years for fair and impartial trials, it should put a stop to allegations of kangaroo courts and victor's justice which, true or not, undermine the credibility of any war crimes trails we have at the moment. Can I also suggest that the judges don't come from countries involved in the conflict in question?
    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.
    Jennifer, UK

    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.
    Jovi Mirkovic, UK

    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.
    John B, UK

    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.
    Rob, USA

    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.
    Patrick, Canada

    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.
    Luke, Canada

    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.
    Paul, Isle of Man

    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?
    Martin, England

    I think this is going to be another bureaucratic circus

    R. Roldan, USA
    A world court is necessary because courts such as the one in The Hague are merely kangaroo courts of the West and have zero legitimacy. With a world court Western leaders can be tried for their crimes against humanity.
    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!).
    R. Roldan, USA

    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.
    Kent, USA

    Just another tired instance of sanctimonious Europeans thinking they have a right to moralise to the rest of the world.
    Alex Chiang, Australia

    A world court is necessary

    Rahul Mahajan, India
    There should be in a perfect world, but unfortunately with countries such as USA unwilling to allow any of their nationals appear in such a court, it will not be possible. Justice has to be fair and equal, so a US citizen who commits war crimes is just as guilty and deserving of punishment as an Iranian, Libyan etc. convicted of a similar offence.
    Phil J, UK

    Hmmm, Another layer of hand wringing liberals dictating political correctness... I don't think so!
    M.P.Marshall, UK

    And, whose laws will we apply in this court; strict Islamic law as interpreted by the Taleban perhaps?
    Gerry, Scotland

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