November 10, 1997
Volume 50, No. 12
Carter Center Update
International criminal court issues highlight Carter Center conference
Although the specter of the Holocaust still haunts the American consciousness, and the public is aware of recent crimes against humanity in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, many similar crimes go unnoticed and unpunished. A proposal for an International Criminal Court to deter future war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity by punishing offenders is pending before the United Nations and is scheduled to go to a diplomatic conference in Rome next summer.
To assist that process, a Carter Center conference on Thursday, Nov. 13, "The United States and the Establishment of an International Criminal Court," will bring together 100 representatives of nongovernmental organizations(NGOs), the United Nations, the U.S. government, the academic community and the media to focus on the U.S. position on the current proposal. The forum takes place just prior to a December meeting of the U.N. preparatory committee hammering out a draft for the member states to vote on.
Conference speakers will include former President Jimmy Carter, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs Emma Bonino; Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, vice-chairman of the U.N. Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court; David Scheffer, U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues; and prominent representatives of academic and NGO communities.
"There appear to be stumbling blocks to full U.S. support centered on details of just how the court would function," said Harry Barnes, director of the center's Conflict Resolution Program and chair of its human rights committee. "The conference is an opportunity for interested parties to fully air those issues and build greater consensus on them. Clarity about the U.S. stance can improve chances of early congressional support once a treaty is proposed."
Issues to be resolved before a treaty is put before member states include how cases would get into the court; the types of crimes it would consider; whether or when international law would complement or supersede national legal systems; and procedures for the court.
"Defining the proper balance between national courts and the ICC is a matter of both paramount importance and sharp contention," said Barnes. "Another tricky relationship is that between the U.N. Security Council and the ICC. For example, should the Security Council be able to preclude proceedings before the court by taking up a matter for consideration under its authority? These are difficult and politically charged issues."
Bassiouni, who was chairman of the U.N. Commission of Experts that investigated war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, added that "a permanent court should have adequate funding and staffing. The ad hoc nature of the tribunals on Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia has caused many delays and raised many procedural questions. Above all, what is needed is the political will to make it work."
The idea of a permanent International Criminal Court is not new. It has been debated for more than 75 years. But the atrocities in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia have brought the issue to the forefront of world attention, Barnes said. "With the shifting political landscape of the post-Cold War era, many people are optimistic there will be adequate political will to establish an international mandate for fair, impartial and effective international criminal justice that will prevent the tragedies of history from being repeated," he said.
One in a series of conferences being co-sponsored worldwide by the NGO No Peace Without Justice, the Atlanta meeting follows similar forums in France, Malta, Italy and Uruguay. Future meetings are planned for New York, Senegal, India and Italy.
Deanna Congileo is associate director of public information at The