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Human Rights Watch Disappointed by U.K. Stand on International Court

(Rome) - As the Rome conference to create an International Criminal Court (ICC) nears a close, Human Rights Watch today expressed its disappointment at the United Kingdom's positions on the establishment of the court. 
Dicker was responding to the U.K.'s speech today at the conference, which 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 also criticized the United Kingdom's "restrictive view" on the preconditions for the exercise of the ICC's authority. Britain is insisting that for the court to try a case, the state on whose territory the crimes have occurred must have ratified the treaty establishing the ICC. " The problem is that many states where these crimes occur may be less likely to ratify the treaty, and therefore the ICC would be unable to deal with them," said Dicker.  
Human Rights Watch welcomed significant positive changes in the United Kingdom's positions. Over the last year the British government has supported proposals that would make the proposed ICC more independent and effective. These include opposition to a veto over the court's docket by permanent members of the Security Council, a constructive approach to war crimes in internal armed conflicts and to national security claims by states, and sensitivity to gender concerns. "We look to the UK to continue to evolve in a positive direction," said Dicker.  
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. While the U.K. has joined the "like-minded" group, some of its positions - including its lack of support for an independent prosecutor and its stand on jurisdiction - are still at odds with the basic tenets of the group.  
Among the key sticking points:  
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 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. The United Kingdom has not yet taken a position on this key issue. 
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. The United Kingdom's proposal would require that the state on whose territory where the crimes were committed ratify the treaty.  
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.  
Jurisdiction over war crimes: 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. Again, a majority of states, including the U.K., want the Court to have full jurisdiction over all serious war crimes.

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