(New York) - In a letter to President Bill Clinton today, Human Rights Watch urges the president to support an effective and more independent international criminal court (ICC). 
 
On June 15, a diplomatic conference in Rome will convene to finalize a statute for the ICC, which would prosecute cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. U.S. officials at the highest levels are now formulating the American position on the ICC.  
 
"The ICC would target those responsible for the worst human rights crimes personally," writes Executive Director Kenneth Roth. "When tomorrow's tyrant contemplates genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity, an effective ICC would make him think twice."  
 
Roth criticizes the current U.S. position insisting on "iron-clad, 100 percent guarantees" that no American citizen could ever face an ICC prosecution, and explains that such guarantees would create significant barriers to bringing a citizen of any state before the court. Roth calls on Clinton to accept instead the "strong guarantees" against frivolous prosecution already written into the draft ICC statute.  
 
Roth recognizes that the U.S., as a global military power, bears special responsibilities for maintaining peace. But he enumerates the following "strong guarantees" already in the statute: "complementarity," or the ability of national courts to prosecute their own criminals before such cases could come before the ICC; "procedural checks," including an extensive pre-trial screening process for all cases; and the "selection of judges and prosecutor," which would subject all nominees to standards of the highest professionalism.  
 
Roth urges Clinton to reject the following "absolute guarantees:" approval by the United Nations Security Council, which would paralyze the court by giving permanent members of the Security Council a veto over the court's docket; state consent to individual prosecutions, which would paralyze the court by giving all states the right to stop cases concerning them from going forward; and limits on the prosecutor's ability to start his or her own investigations.  
 
Roth notes the opposition to an effective and independent ICC from Sen. Jesse Helms, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and from the U.S. Department of Defense. His letter calls on Clinton to overrule the short-sighted objections from these quarters, and to back an international criminal court that can truly hope to end impunity for the world's most terrible crimes.