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Africans Favor Strong International Court

(Rome) - As the Rome conference to create an International Criminal Court (ICC) enters its final days, a clear majority of African countries have spoken in favor of a strong and independent court. Human Rights Watch today called on these delegations to stand by their principles and not capitulate to pressure by France and the United States to weaken the court. 
The meeting, which ends on July 17, is creating a court to prosecute and punish individuals who in the future commit acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In speeches to the conference over the last week, many African states have called for the court to have full jurisdiction over atrocities in civil wars, and the ability to investigate cases when any one of several interested states has ratified the court's statute. Many speakers have also supported an independent prosecutor who could initiate prosecutions on his or her own.  
Those states include Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Congo (Brazzaville), Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe. Only Sudan among sub-Saharan African states opposed giving the ICC broad jurisdiction over serious crimes, including those that arise from internal armed conflict.  
"The Africans have spoken out clearly in favor of an effective court," said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, an international monitoring organization based in New York. "But we've come to the critical juncture at the ICC conference now, and the pressure from France and the United States is overwhelming. We call on these African states to stand firm against that pressure."  
Some African delegates report that French government officials have called their capitals to pressure them to abandon their strong ICC positions. The U.S. has also been sending demarches to capitals around the world, and meeting with delegations in Rome, to insist that other countries modify their support for the ICC.  
"The U.S. and France are both seeking to insulate themselves from prosecution," said Takirambudde. "They want one system of justice for their own citizens, and another one for everyone else."  
France wants to establish an "opt-in" regime for the ICC, by which a state could ratify the treaty, but then declare itself outside the court's jurisdiction for war crimes.  
In a statement last Thursday, the head of the United States delegation, Ambassador David Scheffer, stunned diplomats with the threat that the U.S. would "actively oppose this Court" unless the U.S. prevailed in limiting the court's authority. Even if other countries succumb to U.S. demands, however, Scheffer did not say the U.S. would join the court. He only held out the promise that he "could seriously consider favorably recommending to the United States Government that it sign the ICC treaty at an appropriate time in the future."  
Reuters reported yesterday that in a meeting with the German defense minister, the U.S. defense secretary threatened to review U.S. troop levels in Europe if the Germans did not back off their position on the court's broad jurisdiction.  

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