Latin America Favors Strong International Court

HRW appeals to Latin Delegates to Resist U.S. Pressure


"The Latin states have spoken out clearly in favor of an effective court. We hope they do not cave in to the United States, which will not ratify the statute in any event."


Josť Miguel Vivanco
Director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch




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(Rome, July 14, 1998) - As the Rome conference to create an International Criminal Court (ICC) enters its final days, a clear majority of Latin American countries have spoken in favor of a strong and independent court. Human Rights Watch today called on these delegations to stand by their principles and not capitulate to threats of pressure by the United States, which wants to weaken the court's powers.

The ICC conference, which ends on July 17, is creating a court to prosecute and punish individuals who in the future commit acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Over the last week, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Venezuela called for the court to have an independent prosecutor, full jurisdiction over atrocities in internal armed conflicts, and the ability to investigate cases when any one of several interested states has ratified the court's statute. Only Mexico and Uruguay spoke against these principles. Brazil's position, in particular, represents an important shift from its more conservative stand at the beginning of the parley.

"The Latin states have spoken out clearly in favor of an effective court," said Josť Miguel Vivanco, Director of the Americas division of Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organization based in New York. "We hope they do not cave in to the United States, which will not ratify the statute in any event."

The United States seeks to restrict the court to investigating cases referred by the Security Council. Cases referred by other states would require the approval of the state of the accused's nationality. "The U.S., which can block any Security Council action, wants a 100% guarantee that its citizens will not be brought before the ICC." said Vivanco. "It wants one system of justice for U.S. citizens, and one for everyone else."

The U.S. is also trying to block an independent prosecutor that could stand up to larger states. "Smaller states are reluctant, for diplomatic, political and economic reasons, to file complaints involving larger states," said Vivanco. "An independent prosecutor could evaluate cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity on their merits, without fear of big-power intervention."

In a statement last Thursday, the head of the United States delegation, Ambassador David Scheffer, stunned diplomats with the threat that the U.S. would "actively oppose this Court" unless the U.S. prevailed in limiting the court's authority. Even if other countries succumb to U.S. demands, Scheffer only held out the promise that he "could seriously consider favorably recommending to the United States Government that it sign the ICC treaty at an appropriate time in the future."

The Pentagon has heavily lobbied defense ministries in Latin America and other regions, to persuade them to weaken their support for the court. Reuters news wire reported today that the U.S. Secretary of Defense threatened to reduce troop levels in Germany if the German government did not soften its support for a strong ICC. The U.S. Department of Defense has denied the report, but Human Rights Watch has independently confirmed that the Reuters report is correct.

The United States delegation held a closed-door meeting in Rome this afternoon with Latin American diplomats at which it again pressed them to back U.S. positions.

For further information, contact:
Washington Josť Miguel Vivanco 1-202-371-6599 extension 145
Rome Richard Dicker: (mobile) 39 335-345-629
Reed Brody: (mobile) 39 348-334-9972
New York Kenneth Roth 1-212-216-1201
Carroll Bogert 1-212-216-1244
Brussels Jean-Paul Marthoz 322-736-7838

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