(Rome) - Human Rights Watch today praised the speech of South African Justice Minister Dullah Omar at the opening day of a conference to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC). 
 
At a speech before delegates from 156 countries in Rome, Dullah called for an ICC with the authority to make an independent decision of when to take up cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression. He supported giving the prosecutor the powers to begin investigations on his or her own initiative.  
 
South Africa 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.  
 
Dullah spoke on behalf of the Southern Africa Development Community, which has 14 members. "The creation of the ICC will send a clear and unequivocal message that perpetrators of these crimes will not get away with impunity," he said.  
 
"Dullah's speech was right on target," said Richard Dicker, who heads the ICC campaign for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based monitoring organization. "South Africa has been on the right side of this issue time and again."  
 
But Dicker warned that as the conference gets underway, South Africa will likely come under heavy pressure from influential countries 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 countries 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. "South Africa can play a historic role in that process - if it sticks to its principles."