(Rome) - Human Rights Watch today expressed disappointment in the speech of U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson at the conference to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC).  
 
In a speech to more than 150 delegates meeting in Rome, Richardson made no reference to the most contentious and important issue to be decided at the conference: the question of "state consent," or whether individual governments will have to give their permission before an investigation can go forward. Unlike previous U.S. statements, which reserved Washington's position on state consent, Richardson's made no mention of it whatsoever.  
 
"It's a shame that Washington continues to leave open the possibility that any tyrant can block his own prosecution," said Richard Dicker, who leads the ICC campaign for Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organization based in New York. "It's incredible that at this late date, the US has not announced its position. That makes the work of this conference more difficult."  
 
The proposed ICC would have the power to investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In his speech, Richardson also argued that an independent prosecutor, who could begin investigations on his or her own initiative, would "overload the limits of the Court's design, leading to greater confusion and controversy."  
 
Human Rights Watch believes an independent prosecutor is essential to the proper functioning of the court. "A lot of crimes will go unpunished if the prosecutor is limited to what the Security Council refers to her, and to complaints from member states." said Dicker. "If that's the case, this court won't be able to dispense real justice. States are notoriously reluctant to register complaints against other states."  
 
Dicker strongly took issue with Richardson's statement that "the court cannot be the creation of only a single group of nations." Richardson was evidently referring to the "like-minded group" of more than 50 nations, who seek to establish an ICC with strong and independent powers. "A coalition with members from South Korea to South Africa, from Senegal to Germany, from Canada to Malawi, can hardly be called a single bloc," said Dicker. "This is a coalition with the broadest imaginable scope."  
 
Dicker also noted that Richardson did not insist that the United Nations Security Council permanent members have a veto over the court's docket. "We can live with the U.S. position on that," said Dicker.  
 
The ICC conference will run until July 17 and is expected to produce a treaty to establish the ICC.