- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

THE HAGUE Locked away in the walk-in vault of the first permanent war-crimes court are thick files filled with tales of rape, plunder and devastation from around the world.
One such folio is heavy with witness accounts of sexually abused children, looted homes and the expulsion of thousands of poor villagers from the Central African Republic.
Compiled by the French-based International Federation for Human Rights, it is one of about 200 claims charging war crimes that have reached the court's offices since their opening in July.
Today, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan installs 18 judges and formally inaugurates the International Criminal Court, or ICC, where such crimes will be prosecuted.
Advocates say the court will provide a forum for punishing those accused of the most serious crimes against mankind, including genocide.
Critics say it will become a tool for harassment, propaganda and politically motivated prosecutions, especially against Americans, given their extensive military and civilian presence abroad, and an intensified anti-American climate around the world.
The Bush administration removed the U.S. signature from the 1998 Rome Treaty establishing the court and adopted legislation empowering the president to use "all means necessary" to free Americans from the court's custody.
But 89 other countries are on board as the court enters a field of international jurisprudence that has been developing since the Nuremberg trials after World War II. The new court is modeled on the temporary tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, East Timor and Sierra Leone.
It faces daunting challenges in winning credibility as an independent and forceful legal body that prosecutes war criminals and deters future crimes.
Optimists say it may take two years before the court is ready to try its first case. It will need hundreds of staff to handle a single case, yet it is starting out with a team of just 62, including judges.
The court is in a temporary building with no courtroom, detention cells, trial lawyers or enforcement arm to make arrests. The court's jurisdiction went into force in July and wasn't made retroactive.
The signatories to the Rome Treaty establishing the court have not reached consensus on a prosecutor. A short list of six or seven names is circulating, and the choice may come down to a divisive election next month.
Sources speaking on condition of anonymity said the list includes Reginald Blanch, chief judge at the New South Wales District Court in Australia, and U.N. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte of Switzerland. Canadian, Gambian and Argentine candidates also have been named.
The United States has bilateral agreements with 22 other countries giving its citizens immunity, and its rejection of the court has strained relations with Europe, where the court has unanimous backing.
"This court is about making the Europeans and like-minded countries feel good about themselves," said Paul R. Williams, a professor of law and international relations at American University.
"There are serious fears that the court will respond to political directions from Europe and its allies," said the former State Department lawyer and author of several book on war crimes.

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