U.S. Senator Jesse Helms may rage against the international criminal court, but he cannot stop it.
 
The lawmaker has called a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, for Wednesday, June 14, to hear one-sided testimony against the international criminal court. This week, 110 nations are gathering at the United Nations to put the final touches on rules of procedure and evidence for the court.  
 
In July 1998, the United States was one of only seven countries, including Iraq and the People's Republic of China, which voted against the treaty establishing the court. One hundred and twenty nations voted in favor. A growing number of governments has denounced U.S. efforts to re-open and weaken the treaty. Last month, the European Union rejected the U.S. initiative as "unacceptable."  
 
"Senator Helms is fighting a losing battle," said Richard Dicker, counsel to Human Rights Watch and the director of its campaign on the international criminal court. "Dozens of governments around the world are solidly behind the international criminal court, and they include America's closest allies. This court is going to come into being whether Senator Helms likes it or not."  
 
The U.S. government seeks ironclad assurances that none of its nationals could be prosecuted before the court. This is consistent with the isolationist pressure exerted by Helms. In previous rounds of negotiation, Washington has already succeeded in getting multiple safeguards to prevent possibility of politically-motivated prosecutions against any U.S. national. The court will only prosecute when governments are acting to shield individuals from their national courts.  
 
Human Rights Watch said the guarantees sought by the United States would end up granting immunity to tyrants accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  
 
Ninety-seven states have already signed the international criminal court treaty. Twelve have already ratified it, including France, which ratified on Friday, June 9.  
 
"Helms' hearing is widening a schism between the U.S. and its closest allies," said Dicker. He noted that the Organization of American States has endorsed early ratification of the treaty, while the Southern African Development Community and CARICOM have also indicated their strong support for the court.  
 
Dicker said that concerns about an American citizen falling victim to a politically-motivated prosecution were misplaced. The treaty will not allow the court to have jurisdiction over matters into which national courts have already initiated an investigation.  
 
"This court is meant for people like Foday Sankoh and situations like Sierra Leone, where the justice system becomes inoperative amidst turmoil and civil war," said Dicker. "These individuals need to be held to account for their crimes. A strong and impartial court is desperately needed in many parts of the world, and the United States, which has had so much influence in shaping the court, should not stand in its way."  
 
The negotiations on the court's Rules of Procedure and Evidence and Elements of Crimes will conclude on June 30 in New York, after which the pace of treaty ratification will likely accelerate. The treaty must be ratified by 60 states in order to come into being. Human Rights Watch said that goal may be reached as early as 2002.