Global Policy Forum

Groups Urge Iraq to Join ICC


By Haider Rizvi

Inter Press Service
August 5, 2005

When the Iraqi interim government declared its intention to endorse the treaty on the International Criminal Court (ICC), the news came as a happy surprise to many European nations and international civil society groups. But their excitement did not last long, as the transitional administration in Baghdad reversed its decision within a few days, presumably under tremendous pressure from Washington, which continues to oppose the first-ever world court on war crimes and crimes against humanity. Despite relative silence on this issue for months, the debate has resurfaced at a time when Baghdad is almost ready to adopt a new constitution.

"International law represents the highest values of honour, human justice, and safeguarding humanity," the Baghdad-based Human Rights and Democracy Organisation said in a letter to the Iraqi Constitution Committee Thursday. The letter, signed by nearly 100 prominent lawyers, professors, physicians and intellectuals, urged the authors of the new constitution to insist that the text "clearly affirms international law in its totality, primarily the Rome Statute of the ICC, as well as the international agreements, conventions, and declarations."

In addition to sending letters to the Iraqi political leadership, right groups based in Baghdad are also reaching out to several international human right groups that had actively campaigned for the establishment of the ICC. In March this year, many democracy activists had strongly protested the interim government's move to withdraw from its earlier decision to join the ICC. "Without giving notice and without explanation, and even before the ink of their decision to join the court was dry, the Council of Ministers reversed the decision," they said in a letter to the former Iraqi President Eyad Allawi in March, describing his move as "all-to-clear contradictions and hypocrisy."

ICC supporters in the United States say they have no clear indication, but it was most likely opposition from the George W. Bush administration that forced the then-government to change its mind. "Reports we have received indicate that it was the result of pressure," Anjali Kamat of the New York-based Coalition for ICC told IPS. The Coalition, which represents a worldwide network of 2,000 human right groups with a focus on universal ratification of the ICC treaty, says it considers the Iraqi desire to ratify the ICC "a sound political decision."

"Despite the Bush administration's misrepresentations, ratification of the ICC Treaty and other humanitarian international law treaties could provide all nationals with greater protection and recourse to justice," William Pace, convener of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, told IPS. "We hope that in the near future the new Iraqi government will be able to finalise ratification of the ICC treaty so immunity for war crimes will be a thing of the past in Iraq," he added.

The U.S. is currently engaged in a worldwide campaign to sign bilateral agreements with ICC member countries that would protect U.S. citizens from prosecution by the court. Countries that refuse to sign risk losing military assistance from Washington. As of May this year, 99 nations had ratified the ICC treaty.

Commenting on the U.S. role regarding Iraqis' intention to join the ICC, the Washington Post wrote in May this year: "On the one hand was touting Iraq's transition to democracy as a model in the Arab World. On the other hand, the Iraqi transitional government was embracing a multilateral treaty that Washington has resisted for years." According to the Post, "Iraq's decision raised the possibility that Washington would have to take its diplomatic campaign against the ICC to Baghdad, where the question of responsibility for war crimes is a live issue."

Quoting a recent article that appeared in Iraq's English-language Azzaman newspaper, the daily acknowledged that public opinion in Iraq may be inflamed by the U.S. military occupation. "Almost everyone had a story to tell of the abuses, the atrocities, the violence and massive human right violations that have accompanied the U.S. invasion of our land," the Iraqi daily said. "For such people, the ICC deterrence might be welcome," observed the Post.

Washington has not yet signed a bilateral agreement with Iraq, but observers say if the Iraqi government made an attempt to join the ICC at some point in the future, it is likely that the U.S. would turn to this option. "I think the U.S. will try to do that," said Kamat. "But it will be quite a long process before anything happens." Iraqi politicians responsible for finalising the draft of the Constitution are supposed to complete their task by Aug. 15. If they do so on time, a referendum scheduled for Oct. 15 would allow Iraqis to endorse or reject the text.

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