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Stop Threatening International Court, U.S. Officials Told

At Senate hearing, Human Rights Watch warns against uninformed criticism

(Washington) - Human Rights Watch today called on the Clinton administration to drop its threat to oppose the International Criminal Court (ICC). It urged members of Congress, including members of the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations holding hearings today on the ICC, to study the treaty's provisions carefully, in light of atrocities taking place far outside the Beltway. It also demanded that U.S. officials refrain from uninformed and politically motivated criticism.  
The U.S. was one of only seven countries to vote against the ICC treaty in Rome on July 17. The others were China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, and Yemen. Virtually all of America's allies voted in favor of the court, which will prosecute future cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  
"Up to now, there's been no real disagreement between the administration and Congressional Republicans on the ICC," said Richard Dicker, associate counsel of Human Rights Watch. "The real fault line lies between the U.S. and 120 countries, including America's closest friends and allies, who voted for the treaty."  
In Rome, the U.S. sought provisions to protect its own nationals that would also have allowed tyrants to shield themselves from prosecution, said Dicker. For example, the U.S. opposed allowing the ICC to have jurisdiction over suspected war criminals, if they are citizens of states that haven't ratified the treaty. Its amendment to that effect was defeated by an overwhelming majority on the final day of the conference. "That loophole would have been big enough for Saddam Hussein to walk through -- and some of his Republican Guard, too," said Dicker.  
The U.S. also sought to avoid having to share intelligence with ICC investigations, and it tried to weaken the powers of the prosecutor. Unlike Britain and France, the U.S. tried to hang on to a United Nations Security Council veto over the court's docket. It was only partially successful in all these efforts.  
"The purpose of this court is to protect potential victims - people at risk for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes," said Dicker. "In its highly unpopular struggle to demand special superpower treatment, the U.S. lost sight of what this court is really all about. That's a sad legacy for President Clinton to leave behind."  
Human Rights Watch noted that several of the questions being raised about the ICC reveal a lack of understanding about the treaty, and about widely accepted precepts of international law. Those questions include:  
Is it unconstitutional for the U.S. government to extradite or surrender abroad U.S. citizens to be tried by foreign judges? The U.S. Constitution does not prohibit this. In fact, many U.S. nationals are sent abroad for trial before foreign courts every year. The ICC will attract some of the world's top legal experts, and is expected to maintain a higher standard of jurisprudence than many U.S. citizens routinely face in foreign courts today.  
Will U.S. peacekeepers be subjected to unwarranted lawsuits at the ICC? No case can come before the ICC if a national court is already dealing competently with the matter. According to the treaty, the ICC has jurisidiction only if the prosecutor can prove that national courts have intent to shield suspects from prosecution. It's very, very difficult to imagine such a circumstance in the U.S. In addition, both the prosecutor, and a pretrial panel of judges, will review lawsuits to weed out any frivolous matters.  
Can states that haven't ratified the treaty still be subject to its provisions? The ICC imposes no new obligations on states; the subjects of ICC prosecution will be individuals. There are many counter-terrorism treaties, for example, that allow foreigners to be prosecuted for crimes regardless of whether their government consents, and the U.S. is party to these treaties.  

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