Sunday, March 18, 2007

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said in an interview that he can envision a scenario in which President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair could one day face war-crimes charges at The Hague.

Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph that it was frustrating that the court was viewed in the Arab world as biased in favor of the West.

Asked whether he could envision a situation in which Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair found themselves in the dock answering charges of war crimes in Iraq, he replied:

“Of course, that could be a possibility … whatever country joins the court can know that whoever commits a crime in their country could be prosecuted by me.”

The U.S. has refused to accept the court’s jurisdiction and for years opposed the court, fearing that it would be used as a political tool to target American soldiers and diplomats overseas.

Human rights lawyers remain skeptical about whether charges against either leader would ever gain credibility in the court.

Some Muslim countries have criticized what they claim is the court’s reluctance to address offenses committed by Western governments.

Sudan, which has been investigated over its role in the mass killing of civilians in its western region of Darfur, has called for the court to investigate coalition actions in Iraq.

Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s former prime minister, has announced plans to set up an alternative war-crimes tribunal to hear complaints against countries including Britain, Israel and the United States.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said that, while he was sympathetic to the views of Arab countries, the answer was for them to get involved in the legal process.

The court is restricted in what it can investigate. The U.N. Security Council can ask it to act — as in the case of Darfur — or the court can launch an investigation if it receives a complaint from a state that is party to the Rome agreement that established it.

The U.S. is not a signatory, although lately it has begun supporting court investigations in several African civil wars, including the conflict in Sudan.

The court can also look into purported offenses carried out by, or on the territory of, a party to the agreement.

Afghanistan is a signatory, though Sudan is not. Days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein approached lawyers in Britain about signing up, but his effort was overtaken by events. Had he succeeded, the actions of the U.S. in Iraq would fall within the court’s jurisdiction.

Mr. Moreno-Ocampo said it was still possible for an investigation to be launched into coalition actions in Iraq if that country signed up.

Hamid al-Bayati, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, said Iraq was actively considering joining.

The court is currently prosecuting cases against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, a militia leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a number of individuals believed to have been involved in the conflict in Darfur.

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