(Rome) - As the Rome conference to create an International Criminal Court (ICC) nears a close, Human Rights Watch today expressed disappointment in many of France's positions on the establishment of the court. In particular, it criticized France's proposal to limit the court's ability to take up cases of serious war crimes.  
 
Today in Rome, France reiterated its stand that states which ratify the court's statute should still have the right to block prosecution of their nationals for war crimes on a case-by-case or wholesale basis. "It is time for France to move beyond its restrictive position and allow this court tackle war crimes head-on," said Richard Dicker, who leads the ICC campaign for Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring group based in New York. He noted that France's position would, however, allow the future court automatically to investigate crimes against humanity and genocide.  
 
The Rome conference is drafting a treaty to establish an ICC to prosecute and punish individuals who in the future commit acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Little over a week remains before the five week meeting closes on July 17.  
 
Human Rights Watch welcomed significant positive changes in France's positions since the conference began on June 15. In particular, France now supports an independent prosecutor; it has spoken out clearly on the court's authority to investigate atrocities in civil wars; and it has backed away from its previous stand that gave a veto over the court's docket to the five Permanent Members of the Security Council.  
 
The ICC will be different from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which addresses only disputes between states, and different from the ad-hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, which are temporary and involve only specific countries. The International Criminal Court will be a permanent forum to prosecute and punish individuals who commit egregious human rights violations.  
 
The establishment of an effective ICC will be a significant milestone in the enforcement of human rights worldwide.The Court will also have the effect of extending the rule of law and strengthening national court systems to prosecute these crimes themselves. A genuinely effective and independent ICC, with its potential to deter the most atrocious international crimes, could dramatically transform the human rights landscape in the next century.  
 
As the treaty conference draws to a close, however, most critical issues remain undecided. A growing majority of states, including the 60-member "like-minded" group comprising Canada, Australia and virtually all European countries, as well as key democracies such as South Korea, South Africa, Senegal, Argentina and Chile, support a court with an independent prosecutor, full jurisdiction over war crimes in internal armed conflict, free from Security Council control and with the ability to investigate cases when any one of several interested states has ratified the court's statute. These ideas are opposed by a minority including powers such as the United States, Russia , China, as well as states traditionally hostile to international human rights mechanisms, such as Iraq, Libya, India and Mexico. France has moved more towards the middle, supporting some "like-minded" positions - such as an independent prosecutor - while taking weaker positions on the court's jurisdiction and its war crimes powers.  
 
Among the key sticking points:  
 

  1. An independent prosecutor: Some states, such as the U.S., China and Russia maintain that the prosecutor should have to wait for states or the UN Security Council to bring cases to the ICC. States are notoriously reluctant, however, to register complaints against other states, so many crimes will go unpunished under this system. A majority of countries - including France - have therefore have suggested that the prosecutor should be empowered to initiate an investigation based on information from any source, including individuals and non-governmental organizations.  
  2. The court's jurisdiction: According to some proposals, the Court can take up crimes against humanity and serious war crimes only when certain states (the state with custody over the accused, the state of the accused's nationality or the state where the crime took place) have not only ratified the statute but consented to its jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis. This could effectively paralyze the Court's operations. Most states, however, are rallying to a South Korean proposal giving the court jurisdiction when any of these states have ratified the treaty, with no further consent requirement. France has not yet made its position clear.  
  3. The role of the Security Council: Less than a handful of big states - in particular China and Russia - still seek to allow the permanent members of the Security Council to veto the Court's jurisdiction if the Council is already "dealing with" a situation that concerns international peace and security, enabling the permanent members to manipulate the Court to protect their own political interests. The majority - including the United Kingdom and France - support that "Singapore proposal": the Security Council, acting affirmatively, could tell the court to delay any prosecutions for a period of time if it believed this was necessary for the promotion of peace and international security. The United States announced today that it was willing to consider this proposal despite its dissatisfaction with it.  
  4. Jurisdiction over internal armed conflict: Some states, such as India and Mexico, argue that the Court's jurisdiction over crimes committed in internal conflicts should be very limited, ignoring the reality that contemporary wars are predominantly non-international. Other states, such as the United States and China, seek to limit the Court's jurisdiction over war crimes to those committed pursuant to a "plan or policy," thus excluding many serious massacres. A majority of states, including France, want the Court to have full jurisdiction over war crimes in civil wars. France, however, has proposed allowing states the possibility of blocking prosecutions on a case-by case basis.

~Today in Rome, France reiterated its stand that states which ratify the court's statute should still have the right to block prosecution of their nationals for war crimes on a case-by-case or wholesale basis. "It is time for France to move beyond its restrictive position and allow this court tackle war crimes head-on," said Richard Dicker, who leads the ICC campaign for Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring group based in New York. He noted that France's position would, however, allow the future court automatically to investigate crimes against humanity and genocide.  
 
The Rome conference is drafting a treaty to establish an ICC to prosecute and punish individuals who in the future commit acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Little over a week remains before the five week meeting closes on July 17.  
 
Human Rights Watch welcomed significant positive changes in France's positions since the conference began on June 15. In particular, France now supports an independent prosecutor; it has spoken out clearly on the court's authority to investigate atrocities in civil wars; and it has backed away from its previous stand that gave a veto over the court's docket to the five Permanent Members of the Security Council.  
 
The ICC will be different from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which addresses only disputes between states, and different from the ad-hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, which are temporary and involve only specific countries. The International Criminal Court will be a permanent forum to prosecute and punish individuals who commit egregious human rights violations.  
 
The establishment of an effective ICC will be a significant milestone in the enforcement of human rights worldwide.The Court will also have the effect of extending the rule of law and strengthening national court systems to prosecute these crimes themselves. A genuinely effective and independent ICC, with its potential to deter the most atrocious international crimes, could dramatically transform the human rights landscape in the next century.  
 
As the treaty conference draws to a close, however, most critical issues remain undecided. A growing majority of states, including the 60-member "like-minded" group comprising Canada, Australia and virtually all European countries, as well as key democracies such as South Korea, South Africa, Senegal, Argentina and Chile, support a court with an independent prosecutor, full jurisdiction over war crimes in internal armed conflict, free from Security Council control and with the ability to investigate cases when any one of several interested states has ratified the court's statute. These ideas are opposed by a minority including powers such as the United States, Russia , China, as well as states traditionally hostile to international human rights mechanisms, such as Iraq, Libya, India and Mexico. France has moved more towards the middle, supporting some "like-minded" positions - such as an independent prosecutor - while taking weaker positions on the court's jurisdiction and its war crimes powers.  
 
Among the key sticking points:  
 

  1. An independent prosecutor: Some states, such as the U.S., China and Russia maintain that the prosecutor should have to wait for states or the UN Security Council to bring cases to the ICC. States are notoriously reluctant, however, to register complaints against other states, so many crimes will go unpunished under this system. A majority of countries - including France - have therefore have suggested that the prosecutor should be empowered to initiate an investigation based on information from any source, including individuals and non-governmental organizations.  
  2. The court's jurisdiction: According to some proposals, the Court can take up crimes against humanity and serious war crimes only when certain states (the state with custody over the accused, the state of the accused's nationality or the state where the crime took place) have not only ratified the statute but consented to its jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis. This could effectively paralyze the Court's operations. Most states, however, are rallying to a South Korean proposal giving the court jurisdiction when any of these states have ratified the treaty, with no further consent requirement. France has not yet made its position clear.  
  3. The role of the Security Council: Less than a handful of big states - in particular China and Russia - still seek to allow the permanent members of the Security Council to veto the Court's jurisdiction if the Council is already "dealing with" a situation that concerns international peace and security, enabling the permanent members to manipulate the Court to protect their own political interests. The majority - including the United Kingdom and France - support that "Singapore proposal": the Security Council, acting affirmatively, could tell the court to delay any prosecutions for a period of time if it believed this was necessary for the promotion of peace and international security. The United States announced today that it was willing to consider this proposal despite its dissatisfaction with it.  
  4. Jurisdiction over internal armed conflict: Some states, such as India and Mexico, argue that the Court's jurisdiction over crimes committed in internal conflicts should be very limited, ignoring the reality that contemporary wars are predominantly non-international. Other states, such as the United States and China, seek to limit the Court's jurisdiction over war crimes to those committed pursuant to a "plan or policy," thus excluding many serious massacres. A majority of states, including France, want the Court to have full jurisdiction over war crimes in civil wars. France, however, has proposed allowing states the possibility of blocking prosecutions on a case-by case basis.