(Rome) - Human Rights Watch today praised the speech of Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy at the opening day of a conference to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC).  
 
In a speech before delegates from more than 150 countries in Rome, Axworthy called on them to "work together not simply to establish a court, but a court that is worth having." Canada has been a leader of the "like-minded group" of more than 50 states, which seeks to form an ICC with strong and independent powers to investigate and punish genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  
 
"Axworthy made a terrific speech," said Richard Dicker, who heads the ICC campaign for Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organization based in New York. "He spelled out strong positions on the most important features of the court: that the ICC prosecutor needs to be independent and the court should have real teeth."  
 
Axworthy called for a court that is "focused on real problems, on the ground." He spoke movingly about the need to provide appropriate protections for the victims of human rights crimes, including women and children.  
 
But Dicker warned that as the conference gets underway, Canada will likely come under heavy pressure from close allies such as the United States to dilute the court's powers. Washington wants to curtail the authority of the prosecutor to begin investigating matters on his or her own initiative. Some states of the Non-Aligned Movement want to have a veto power over the court's docket, enabling them to block cases that might embarrass them.  
 
"The ICC could really make a difference in how the world punishes grave human rights abuses," said Dicker. "Canada can play a historic role in that process - if it sticks to its principles."  
 
The five-week conference, which is being convened under the aegis of the United Nations, is supposed to produce a statute defining the ICC's powers.