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International Tribunals

The movement to create international institutions of justice took several steps forward in 2000. Most significant was the progress toward the establishment of the International Criminal Court -- the first global tribunal for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. A treaty to establish the court was adopted in Rome in July 1998. Despite the many legal complexities involved, twenty-two governments had already ratified the treaty by the end of October 2000 (of the sixty needed to launch the court) and another ninety-three governments had signed it. This broad embrace suggests that the court will be up and running soon -- conceivably as early as 2002.

Because the ICC will not have retroactive jurisdiction, the world continues to rely on country-specific international tribunals for the most heinous crimes of the past and present. Political changes in Croatia and Yugoslavia show how international tribunals have changed the long-term prospects of even seemingly secure human rights offenders. The death of Franjo Tudjman in December 1999 opened the way to the election of Croatia's new president, Stipe Mesic, who has been far more cooperative with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, handing over evidence and suspects and opening the country's borders to investigators. The September 2000 electoral loss of Slobodan Milosevic to Yugoslavia's new president, Vojislav Kostunica, has also opened up new possibilities for cooperation. Kostunica at first insisted that he would not surrender Milosevic to the Hague, where the tribunal has indicted him for crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo. But Kostunica's later comments were more equivocal, suggesting that cooperation with the tribunal and even the eventual surrender of Milosevic remain possibilities. At stake is also the fate of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, who has taken refuge in Serbia after his indictment by the tribunal for genocide and other crimes in Bosnia.

Meanwhile, as of late October, the U.N. Security Council was moving toward the creation of a hybrid national-international tribunal for Sierra Leone. The tribunal will effectively overturn the July 1999 amnesty and make possible the prosecution of those behind the horrendous crimes that have characterized the country's civil war. The hybrid nature of the court will be precedent-setting -- an international prosecutor and judges in a dominant role to ensure the court's independence, but a significant role for Sierra Leonean judges and prosecutors to help them begin reconstructing their devastated legal system. However, certain issues remain to be worked out, including the power of the court to compel cooperation, the time period on which the court will focus, the court's treatment of juvenile offenders, and the extent of witness protection.

Unfortunately, a proposed hybrid tribunal for Cambodia has fared less well. Unlike Sierra Leone, the Cambodian government has insisted that Cambodians have a dominant role. The U.N. at first resisted because of the Cambodian government's long history of manipulating its legal system. But the U.N. was later forced to acquiesce when the U.S. government brokered a deal largely on Cambodian terms. Still, as of late October, the Cambodian government was dragging its feet in seeking the necessary parliamentary approval, raising doubts about the court's prospects.


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Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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