BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: UK Politics
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook
"We do believe that the US's anxieties on this point are misplaced"
 real 56k

The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"Britain may back this court but the Americans do not"
 real 56k

US War Crimes Ambassador, David Sheffar
"It will be years before the US ratifies this treaty"
 real 28k

Friday, 25 August, 2000, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
UK pushes for war crimes court
Osmarka camp
War crimes in former Yugoslavia will not be tried at the court
The UK Government is supporting plans to establish an international criminal court to try war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Draft legislation for such a court has been published by the Foreign Office. It would allow Britain to ratify the 1998 international treaty to establish a permanent institution.

"We have long argued that there should be an international court on a permanent basis which can hold dictators to account," Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC.

"We are now on the verge of the historic step of making it a reality so that we can deter dictatorship in the future and crimes against humanity."

At present many states to which the suspects belong or where the crimes are committed are unwilling or unable to bring suspects before their domestic courts.

Robin Cook
Robin Cook supports the court
But an international court may be some years away. Sixty countries need to ratify the treaty before the court can come into being but only 14 have done so, with several powerful states, including the USA, opposing the plans.

Once established, the court would be able to try those accused of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity.

Currently, crimes of this measure - such as occurred in the former Yugoslavia - are dealt with under international tribunals.

But there have been criticisms that such tribunals are slow to process the cases and can only deal with the specific offences for which they were set up.

In contrast, an international criminal court, based at the Hague, would be a permanent body.

It would have no retrospective effect, so it could not, for example, put on trial the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, nor the Sierra Leonean rebel leader, Foday Sankoh.

The draft Bill has been welcomed by human rights organisation Amnesty International, which has campaigned for creation of an international court.

The organisation's UK director, Kate Allen, said: "Without an international criminal court there can be no justice for the victims of many of the worst crimes imaginable and no hope of deterring those who would contemplate such crimes".

Without an International Criminal Court there can be no justice for the victims of many of the worst crimes imaginable

Kate Allen, Amnesty
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell also welcomed publication of a draft Bill.

"Robin Cook has made the establishment of the International Criminal Court a cornerstone of his foreign policy with an ethical dimension," he said.

"With rumours that long overdue arms control legislation will once again be missing from the new parliamentary timetable, the establishment of the ICC would go some way to making the ethical dimension a reality," he said.

Supporters of the court hope that once it is operating, countries opposed to it would change their minds.

The US is currently aligned with a small group of authoritarian governments, including China, Saudi Arabia and Libya, in refusing to contemplate the idea of its citizens being subject to an international court.

A few days ago, the Democratic candidate in the presidential election, Al Gore, said the treaty still had significant flaws - despite several safeguards being worked in to satisfy American objections.

Mr Cook added: "Nobody denies that the court would be stronger if the United States became part of it.

"I am confident that over a period of time, when we have seen that the court behaves properly and judicially and is not subject to the abuse that is feared by some in the United States, that the voice from the United States that they should take part will become stronger."

Following publication of the draft Bill, there will be a period of consultation. Campaigners are hoping that the Bill will then be presented to Parliament in the Queen's Speech in the autumn.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

25 Aug 00 | World
Obstacles to world court
14 Jan 00 | Europe
Analysis: Big fish still at large
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK Politics stories