Global Policy Forum

International Court Attempts Shoestring Justice


By Sanjay Suri

Inter Press Service
September 9, 2004

The Assembly of State Parties, the name given to a meeting of officials from countries supporting the court, has proposed a budget of 84 million dollars for the International Criminal Court (ICC) for next year. Civil society groups say that is far too little. On that budget will depend the extent of justice the court can hope to offer.

The jurisdiction of the court extends only to 94 countries that support it, with the United States a prominent exception. The remit of the court is to take up cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity where national governments are unwilling or unable to act. The court has taken on two cases so far in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. Both were referred to the court by the national governments of these countries. The two African nations invited the ICC to prosecute war crimes during conflicts between government forces and rebels. The court can only investigate crimes that took place after its creation in July 2002.

The court is prosecuting these cases from The Hague in the Netherlands, and that could become also its weakness, says William Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a network of non-governmental organisations supporting justice through this court. ''It could become too Hague-centric, with very little outreach and communication to peoples where crimes have occurred,'' Pace told IPS on phone from The Hague.

This is where the budget plays a vital role in the scope of justice the court can offer, he says. ''The budget is a blueprint of what the court wants to do and how it intends to operate,'' he said. ''For us the budget has serious deficiencies because we believe it is repeating the mistakes of the ad hoc tribunals for the trial of Milosevic and the genocide in Rwanda.''

Those models meant among other things that trials will take place in The Hague. Milosevic stands accused at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague of a large number of crimes. And the prosecution has sought to make a case with about every crime. This has meant flying in many witnesses, and an inability to summon others. The Milosevic trial has become an unwieldy process.

The ICC, which already has investigating teams in place in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Uganda, has taken the view that it does not have money to conduct Milosevic type trials. It plans to pick a few incidents of serious crime and launch prosecutions. This would reduce time, costs and the number of witnesses. ''Nothing wrong with that, but the court needs also to consider how thousands of others need to be communicated with, and how the trials relate to them,'' Pace said.

The Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) says it "doubts the capacity of the Court to implement those (human) rights. Indeed, the financial difficulties that the Court might face may prevent the effective participation and protection of victims.''

Human rights groups say such participation will require substantial and long-term commitment from the supporting countries. ''Now that the ICC is beginning to reach out to witnesses and victims, we expect these states to step up to the plate and provide the appropriate funds for the court to do its job,'' Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice programme said in a statement. ''It's not about giving the court a blank check, but making sure that the ICC has the necessary financial and political backing for this critical phase of its work,'' he said.

The 84 million dollar budget proposed for the court for next year is only somewhat higher than the 74 million dollar budget for this year. But the costs are expected to be far higher next year because the trials in both cases the court has taken up are due next year. Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo -- an Argentine national -- has said he would like to launch investigations in several other cases next year, and he cannot do that without a budget to go on. ''I cannot and will not announce the opening of a third investigation without being certain that sufficient resources are available,'' he said at the start of the assembly this week.

Officials from about 80 of the 94 countries that endorsed the Rome Treaty that created the court are attending the meetings that began Monday. Officials from about 40 countries are attending as observers.

The United States is not present as observer either. It withdrew from the Rome Treaty on the grounds that its citizens could be prosecuted as a result of political motivations. The United States has entered bilateral agreements with several countries to make sure its citizens are not extradited to the court.

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