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A Word To World Dictators

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2001-01-01 18:11:12


U.S. signs agreement on war crimes court Opposition to treaty expected in Senate --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Associated Press Originally published Jan 1 2001

WASHINGTON -- Acting at the last moment, President Clinton authorized the United States yesterday to sign a treaty creating the world's first permanent international war crimes tribunal to bring to justice people accused of crimes against humanity.

The president said his action, taken with reservations, builds on U.S. support for justice and individual accountability dating to American involvement in the Nuremberg tribunals that brought Nazi war criminals to justice after World War II. "Our action today sustains that tradition of moral leadership," he said.

The treaty should not be submitted to the Senate for ratification until certain concerns are met, he said.

"I believe that a properly constituted and structured International Criminal Court would make a profound contribution in deterring egregious human rights abuses worldwide," the president said.

The treaty must be ratified by the Senate before U.S. participation in the tribunal becomes final. Fierce opposition to its terms is expected from conservatives led by Sen. Jesse Helms, a North Carolina Republican. Helms angrily responded yesterday that "this decision will not stand."

The president said he acted "to reaffirm our strong support for international accountability and for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity."

"In signing, however, we are not abandoning our concerns about significant flaws in the treaty," the president said. "In particular, we are concerned that when the court comes into existence, it will not only exercise authority over personnel of states that have ratified the treaty, but also claim jurisdiction over personnel of states that have not.

"Given these concerns, I will not and do not recommend that my successor submit the treaty to the Senate [for ratification] until our fundamental concerns are satisfied," he said.

David J. Scheffer, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, signed the treaty on behalf of the United States a few hours after Clinton authorized him to do so.

Clinton's action drew positive reaction from human rights activists.

In Atlanta, the Carter Center commended Clinton and noted that the center's founder, former President Jimmy Carter, had urged him to sign the treaty in a letter Dec. 20.

"I think that President Clinton, in signing this treaty, has offered the hope of justice to millions and millions of people around the world by signaling United States' support for the most important international court since the Nuremburg tribunal," said Richard Dicker, associate counsel for Human Rights Watch. He called it "a very important symbolic act."

Yesterday was the deadline for countries to sign on to the international criminal court treaty and transmit their signatures to United Nations headquarters in New York. Afterward, ratification is the only way a government can express support for the treaty or associate itself with it.

The court would be the first permanent institution created to try charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The United Nations has two specifically targeted and temporary war crimes courts. One deals with suspects from the Bosnia-Herzegovina civil war of the early 1990s and the other with people implicated in atrocities during unrest in Rwanda in 1994.

Treaty supporters contend that a permanent international war crimes court is "the missing link" in the global legal system and say that during the past 50 years, many instances of war crimes and crimes against humanity have gone unpunished. Supporters note that no one has been held accountable for the slaughter in Cambodia in the 1970s when an estimated 2 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge or for killings in such other countries as Mozambique, Liberia and El Salvador.

Support for a permanent international war crimes tribunal was first expressed in the years immediately after World War II. Interest in creating such a court has been voiced periodically ever since.

The United Nations contends that setting up temporary courts to deal with allegations of war crimes in specific countries has been an inadequate response because unavoidable delays lead to such problems as deteriorated evidence, escaped or vanished witnesses, and witness intimidation.

Some in the United States have expressed concern that U.S. approval of such an international tribunal might subject American citizens to politically motivated prosecutions. Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has campaigned vigorously against the court. He has pledged to give top priority during the congressional session starting next week to passage of a bill that would bar U.S. cooperation.

"Today's action is a blatant action by a lame-duck president to tie the hands of his successor," said Helms, who said the "kangaroo court" would leave U.S. service personnel subject to prosecution.

"For two years the administration has tried in vain to secure additional protections for American citizens but was rebuffed at every turn by our so-called allies," Helms said.

Helms also has tried to persuade Israel, which had also delayed its decision until the last minute, to reject the international court. Israel declared yesterday that it had decided to sign the treaty establishing the international war crimes court under the United Nations. The United States and Israel were among the handful of countries that did not sign the statute creating the treaty when it was issued in Rome in 1998.

At the United Nations, a representative of the government of Iran also signed the treaty yesterday. Four countries signed the treaty Friday -- the Bahamas, Mongolia, Tanzania and Uzbekistan -- which brings the number to 137. Twenty-seven have ratified it, and 60 are needed before the treaty can go into effect.

The Evil that men Do Lives To Haunt Them! FOB
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