- The United States has resigned itself to the eventual
creation -- over Washington's objections -- of a U.N. International Criminal
Court to be modeled after war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former
Yugoslavia. Even if the United States does not ratify the treaty, American
citizens will be subject to arrest and trial as the treaty document is
- International backing for the court became apparent this
week as legal experts gathered at the United Nations to discuss fine print
in a treaty that would establish the world judicial body.
- David Scheffer, assistant secretary of state for war
crimes issues, acknowledged that the court is on track, even in the United
- "We expect many nations to ratify by the end of
next year," he told The Washington Times. He also said that the presence
of many U.S. allies on the court would ratchet up pressure on the United
States to join, but added: "We're never going to sign a treaty we
- The United States voted against creating the court last
summer, saying that the structure of the tribunal would not protect American
troops from frivolous or politically motivated indictments and prosecutions.
- Although 90 nations have already signed the treaty, only
five have formally ratified the document. Ratification by 60 nations is
required for the tribunal to begin working -- something experts expect
to happen within the next two years.
- Mr. Scheffer said the U.S. delegation was still hoping
to secure language in the treaty that would provide protection for Americans
-- enough that the United States could eventually join. He said negotiators
were hoping to make strong provisions for national prosecutions that would
pre-empt the international tribunal's jurisdiction. They are also hoping
to define agreed-upon crimes and rules of procedure in such a way that
U.S. troops would be highly unlikely to ever be called before the court.
- Mr. Scheffer said Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
was discussing the tribunal with her counterparts in numerous foreign ministries.
- In voting against the court's creation, the United States
was joined by a curious collection of nations: Iraq, Libya, Israel, Russia,
China and India. But supporters range from Germany to South Africa to Australia:
an increasingly diverse and powerful bloc of nations that experts say will
provide the political leadership and financial heft to ease concerns of
smaller and more cautious nations.
- All of the European Union has signed the treaty, and
Italy has ratified it. The German government on Tuesday announced that
it would ratify the treaty but did not say when. France has committed to
ratifying it within the next few months. The governments of Britain, Canada
and the Netherlands say they will complete ratification within the next
- The entire European Union is expected to approve the
statute by the end of 2000, said a statement read by a diplomat from Finland.
Finland currently holds the rotating EU presidency. The European Union
has promised financial and legal assistance to the court, to be located
in The Hague. The court will prosecute allegations of war crimes, genocide
and other crimes against humanity, and will do so without direct authorization
of the U.N. Security Council, where the United States holds a veto.
- Although it has no enforcement mechanism, all nations
-- including the United States -- would be subject to the international
court's jurisdiction, the treaty document says. This means that all nations
will be required to comply with the court's demands for information, evidence,
witnesses and suspects, the treaty says.
- "We cannot recognize the court's competence in bringing
prosecutions against U.S. personnel engaged in official actions when the
U.S. government is not a party," Mr. Scheffer told the U.N. legal
committee in October.
- The court will not be retroactive, but the existing tribunals
for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia will eventually be rolled under its
umbrella. The financing of the court has not been decided, but many nations
hope that the bulk of the court's expenses -- particularly in the start-up
years -- will be paid from the U.N. regular budget.
- This means that Washington could be assessed up to one-quarter
of the court's budget, even if it does not accept the treaty. Legal experts
and delegates from around the world have repeatedly said that the court
will be severely limited without the financial, legal and intelligence-gathering
capacities of the United States.
- "There is no doubt the court would be much stronger
with the United States than without," said Bruce Broomhall, an observer
with the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. However, he said, it is "out
of the question" that signatories would allow Washington to renegotiate
portions of the treaty.
- Foreign delegates say they increasingly doubt whether
Washington can be reassured. Several nations and legal experts have complained
that any protections afforded to American troops would be more than enough
to shield notorious rulers such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein who could be accused
of war crimes.
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms,
North Carolina Republican, has said the treaty will be "dead on arrival"
if the president ever submits it for Senate ratification.
- Mr. Scheffer said that U.S. officials have not yet decided
whether to simply ignore the court, or actively work against it. "We're
not going to make that decision until the end of next December."