Disagreements Threaten Global Criminal Court


A historic United Nations conference to create a permanent international criminal court threatened to fracture into warring camps Monday, with the United States pursuing a hard-line bargaining position that has alienated most of its closest allies.

Facing a Friday deadline for completing work on a treaty establishing the court--intended to punish national leaders and others guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity--delegates from about 160 countries were struggling to forge a consensus document that could be adopted without a formal vote.

Although progress was evident in closing some of the many divisions among conferees, wide gaps remain on issues including the scope of the crimes to be covered, the roles of the prosecutor and the U.N. Security Council, and even whether the word “gender” should appear in the treaty text. But the main fault line is over strict limits proposed by the U.S. on the court’s jurisdiction.

Delegates from Western Europe and other democratic states, representatives of human rights groups and legal experts here accused the U.S. of lobbying for a tribunal so weak that bringing most dictators and war criminals before it would be impossible.


David Sheffer, the State Department’s top war crimes official and head of the U.S. delegation here, said such comments are unfair and that the U.S. wants a court that will be politically viable.

The U.S. also is wary of a court that could serve as a forum for politically motivated charges against American soldiers on duty in foreign countries.

The Rome conference, which started June 15 and is scheduled to end Friday, caps a years-long effort by the United Nations. The tribunal--consisting of 18 judges elected by treaty signatories, a prosector’s office and an administrator--probably would be headquartered in The Hague. It would prosecute cases that national courts could not or would not accept.

The U.S. insists that the court have no jurisdiction over citizens of countries that refuse to agree to the treaty, unless the prosecution is directed by the Security Council. Moreover, under the U.S. plan, nations that did join the treaty would have the option of exempting their nationals from prosecution for war crimes or crimes against humanity--again, unless the court action was brought by the Security Council.