Establishing the International Criminal Court in 1998

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  • by Anup Shah
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  1. Fifth Preparatory Commission, June 2000
  2. Establishing a permanent International Criminal Court in 1998

Fifth Preparatory Commission, June 2000

The last round of negotiations on Rules of Procedure and Evidence and on the Elements of Crimes for the International Criminal Court took place from 12-30 June 2000 at UN headquarters in New York.

However, the United States Congress had been trying to push legislation to punish any country that supported the ICC1, as Human Rights Watch revealed. On top of that, the U.S. still pushed the point that it wanted guarantees that its soldiers would be given immunity from war crimes2 charges before participating in any peacekeeping efforts.

The US efforts to undermine the ICC were thwarted3, as Human Rights Watch put it, because most nations involved in the discussions rejected the U.S. text. The concern at the time nevertheless was that the US and other nations would continue to put pressure on the abilities of the court.

The United States' hostility towards the ICC largely stemmed from their military and the Pentagon4, who want US troops to be exempt from any ICC treaty that is signed. They fear that they could be tried for war crimes. (And yet, that is what the ICC is about. Furthermore, the ICC will only exercise itself where the state cannot.)

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Establishing a permanent International Criminal Court in 1998

In mid 1998, 148 countries met in Rome, following tough negotiations and voted overwhelmingly on establishing an international criminal court.

There was also a lot of controversy about the ICC in 1998 with blatant manifestations of self-interest at work (see The Guardian, September 15, 1998). For example, the U.S. had raised fears that this could lead to proceedings regarding its troops abroad, while China has been afraid about the judgement of its regime in Tibet. (See The Guardian, Sept 15, 1998).

India complained that the Security Council would have too many powers and therefore dilute5 the purpose of the ICC (and as various links on this page shows, major powers, like USA had been seeking to avoid6 being part of the standard.)

As of July 18, 1998 the ICC was been given the go-ahead, despite efforts by certain elements in the U.S. such as the military establishments7 and others in varoius other countries to undermine8 it -- although the ICC didn't quite get the full powers and jurisdiction that some people had hoped for9, as described in the previous link.

A substantial amount of criticism of the ICC came, surprisingly for many, from the United States10, who are proud to proclaim themselves as upholders of democracy and freedom. In that context, some in the U.S. point out that their own insitutions are strong enough to handle issues that an ICC would handle. The irony of this though, is that on the international level, they don't wish to support such an institution. Many raised fears that the U.S. has been trying to become more isolationist11 by appearing to refuse to take part in, or undermine, yet another international treaty. It should be stressed that this has not been a clear cut issue in the U.S., (or in any other nation). Many in the U.S. have also supported it as well. Even the U.S. President at the time, Bill Clinton, was facing growing pressure from the Republicans as well as military/Pentagon to oppose the ICC12.

It was even more ironic when you realize that the ICC was given the vote by 120 to 7. The seven who voted against were USA, China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar and Yemen. All of USA's allies voted for the ICC and some of the nations that the United States has branded as rogue states13 were on par with the US on this issue. (This article14, as well as the previous link offers a different perspective to how we define a rogue state and who else would therefore fit into such labels.)

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