Global Policy Forum

International Court's Canadian President


By M.R. Kropko

November 8, 2005

The leader of an international court the United States has refused to join said Monday that the court cannot try Saddam Hussein because of the court's rules. Philippe Kirsch told The Associated Press that the International Criminal Court can consider only major crimes that have occurred since the court began in 2002, and so it could not try Saddam for war crimes that were allegedly committed before then. A point of controversy around the world is whether Saddam's trial should proceed before the Iraqi Special Tribunal or in an international court such as the ICC. That trial started Oct. 19 in Iraq.

In a rare appearance in the United States, Kirsch initially declined to discuss the Saddam trial and would not go into detail about it when pressed. "There's no need to discuss it in any event, because there's a tribunal in Iraq and because the (international) court's jurisdiction starts on the 1st of July 2002," he said. Kirsch, a Canadian, also said in a brief interview with the AP that the court will be successful but needs greater international co-operation and understanding. Kirsch plans to report Tuesday at the UN General Assembly on the progress of the ICC, based in The Hague, Netherlands. "As the court develops and shows that in practice it is a judicial institution and does not feed any misconception about it, it stands to reason to me that the support for the court is going to increase," he said.

The ICC is designed as a permanent, international criminal court to prosecute heinous crimes against humanity, such as genocide. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Kirsch about a year ago signed an agreement clarifying the working relationship between the UN and the war crimes tribunal. Although the court is an independent judicial body, the agreement provides for a permanent relationship between the two organizations and information sharing. "One of the purposes of the ICC's creation is indeed to encourage states to take their own steps to deal with those crimes so that no international involvement would be necessary. We're not quite there yet," Kirsch said.

President George W. Bush, during the 2004 presidential campaign, opposed U.S. involvement with the ICC. The Bush administration has said the ICC could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecution involving American troops or diplomats. Kirsch said he plans to meet with several officials while he is in the United States, but members of the Bush administration are not among them. "To be effective the court needs universal support," said Kirsch, the ICC president. "At least, co-operation from the United States would be helpful to the court."

Kirsch said he could not speak specifically about any potential prosecutions in some in the most troubled regions in the world, including Sudan and Uganda. Dropping a veto threat, the U.S. on March 31 abstained on a UN Security Council resolution that allows the court's prosecution of war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region. The UN has described the humanitarian crisis there as the worst in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Darfur and more than 2 million others have been uprooted from their homes, victims of a factional conflict that began in early 2003.

On Oct. 13, the ICC unsealed warrants of arrest for five senior leaders of the Lord's Resistance Army for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Uganda. The warrants were the first issued by the ICC. Kirsch chaired the Rome Diplomatic Conference in 1998 to help lay the groundwork for the ICC. When the court started four years later, he was elected its first president and a member of its appeals chamber. Later Monday, Kirsch spoke about the ICC's role within global legal reform during his lecture at Case Western Reserve University's law school, where he received a humanitarian award.

He said Germany, the United Kingdom and France are the largest financial backers of the court, which he said is still developing some policies and procedures internally. "There is a great deal of talk about reparations to victims," he said, speaking generally about victims of war crimes and atrocities. "Sometimes crimes are so immense, it is impossible to fully compensate victims."

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