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By Siegfried Ramler

Saturday, January 13, 2001

Rule of law needed
on global scale

THE Star-Bulletin's Jan. 6 editorial, "War crimes court pact should be shelved," did not address the rationale for establishment of a permanent international criminal court.

The challenge for the international community, functioning under the umbrella of the United Nations, is to fuse diverse criminal law systems and laws of war into one court, where justice would be rendered fairly and which sovereign governments would recognize.

The Rome statute of the international criminal court was adopted at a U.N. meeting in the summer of 1998 with the participation of 160 countries.

After five weeks of deliberation, 120 countries signed on as being in favor. Seven, including the United States were opposed, and there were 21 abstentions. In opposition, the U.S. was in the company of such countries as Iraq and China.

President Clinton, in one of his last acts before leaving office, retracted U.S. opposition and signed the treaty. However, before coming into force, the statute is subject to ratification by the governments of the participating nations.

Why a permanent international criminal court? Here are just three key reasons:

Bullet To end impunity for international crimes, ready to uphold the rule of international law, instead of depending on reactive ad-hoc tribunals in response to specific crimes committed during conflicts, such as the tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Bullet To function as a deterrent for future atrocities.

Bullet To provide redress for victims of human rights violations.

Why does Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, object to the establishment of a permanent international criminal court? (He said that the treaty would be "dead on arrival" when it reached the Senate.)

Helms and others, including your editorial writer, fear that an unchecked international court would infringe on basic American constitutional rights and would subject Americans abroad, including military personnel, to politically motivated and capricious indictments.

These fears are unfounded. The court is not intended to replace functioning judicial systems. It will only act when judicial systems in a given nation or territory are not available or refuse to function.

There are restraints in the treaty on the prosecutor. He must obtain the approval of a panel of judges and can proceed only where the state involved has accepted the court's jurisdiction.

Each nation retains the primary right to try its own nationals in a fair trial under its own laws. Furthermore, the new court, after it has been ratified by more than 60 nations, will not be retroactive. It will build a framework of law to safeguard all nations against abuses which plague mankind today.

CERTAINLY, the establishment of an international permanent court requires some deregulation of sovereignty, as is true of domestic law in a civilized society. As is true of individuals, no nation should be above the law.

In the perspective of history, the 20th century will not hold an admirable position. No century has witnessed man's inhumanity to man on such a scale: annihilation of adversaries and minorities, deportation of peoples, genocide and massacres in may parts of the world.

Our most important challenge, on behalf of our children and future generations, is to end the cycle of crimes against humanity and aggressive wars.

A rule of law on a global scale, however difficult it may be to achieve, should be the aim.

Siegfried Ramler is an adjunct fellow
at the East-West Center and was a staff member of the
International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg from 1945-49.

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