- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

The International Criminal Court is on track to become a reality by mid-April, claiming a mandate to indict and try anyone in the world, including Americans, U.N. officials and supporters said yesterday.
With just four more countries needed to ratify the 1998 Rome Statute that creates the court, "it is very close," said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq. "It is reasonable to assume that there will be a few more ratifications in the next few weeks."
The Bush administration strongly opposes the court, which claims jurisdiction even over citizens of countries that do not ratify the treaty. The Clinton administration signed the treaty shortly before leaving office, but President Bush said he would not submit it to the Senate for ratification.
"If a U.S. citizen committed an alleged war crime on the soil of a member of the treaty, or a member of the [U.S.] armed forces committed an alleged crime on the soil of a member of the treaty, they could be brought before the ICC," said Mark Lagon, a legal authority on the staff of Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.
Mr. Haq agreed that a U.S. citizen theoretically could be prosecuted, but said safeguards in the document made that unlikely.
He and other legal analysts said the court could act only if the national courts of a suspect's home country proved unwilling or unable to act.
"This is not designed to go after U.S. citizens. It is meant to go after the Pol Pots and the Foday Sankohs," said Bruce Broomhall, director of the International Justice Program at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York.
Pol Pot was responsible for the Cambodian regime that killed an estimated 1 million of its own citizens in the 1970s. Sankoh was the head of a rebel movement in Sierra Leone that cut off the limbs of many civilians.
Three countries Mauritius, Macedonia and Cyprus ratified the Rome Statute on March 7, and Panama acted last week, bringing the total to 56. Court supporters hope four more countries will sign at a U.N. meeting to discuss the court's budget beginning April 8, producing the needed 60 ratifications.
If that happens, the court could begin operating in The Hague by July 1, Mr. Broomhall said.
The Financial Times reported yesterday that the Bush administration has inquired and been advised by the United Nations that the United States has the right to remove its signature from the Rome Statute though the act would be unprecedented.
But both the State Department and the U.N. legal department said there had been no such request for information.
"Nations are sovereign and usually interpret their treaty obligations themselves," said Palitha Kohona, chief of the treaty section of the U.N. legal-affairs office.
Mr. Broomhall said a removal of the U.S. signature from the treaty "would open the door for the United States to pull out of other treaties, and give other countries an excuse to unsign treaties we'd rather see them in."
Mr. Helms has introduced a bill that would prohibit U.S. troop participation in any U.N. peacekeeping mission unless Americans are granted immunity from the court.
The act also blocks U.S. aid to countries that ratify or participate in the court. Another section authorizes the president to use force if necessary to free a U.S. citizen unfairly imprisoned by the court.
Mr. Haq said the United Nations is aware of U.S. concerns about the ICC, but that the court will not violate the national sovereignty of the United States or any other country.
"We are hoping that once the court is in operation, the United States will see that it is working in a way that is responsible and complementary to national efforts to deal with criminal matters," he said.


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