Leading article: Bringing justice to the world's tyrants

Delegates from 157 countries have assembled in Rome to discuss the creation of an international criminal court designed, as Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General put it, to end the "global culture of impunity". The conference is the result of two years of detailed planning aimed at finalising a world-wide convention on global justice. Any serious international conference has to be submerged in paperwork, and this one is fully up to speed. The delegates have before them draft statutes running to 173 pages, 115 articles and 1,300 sub-clauses.

Although some kind of final product is almost certain to emerge, the real question is just how powerful the eventual court will be. There have been severe doubts about the effectiveness of the ad hoc courts set up by the UN Security Council to try crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but the mere fact that the international community was able to muster sufficient energy and commitment to dip its toe in the water gave an impetus to a more formalised approach.

Now that something permanent is envisaged, however, realpolitik has entered the calculations. With the sole - and admirable - exception of Great Britain, the members of the Security Council object to a free-standing court, effectively able to decide it own agenda. They appear likely to veto any body which is not subservient to the UN - and thus to their own interests.

There are great practical difficulties involved in setting up such a court - the question of how the statutes would stand in relation to the national laws of sovereign nations, for instance. But in a world in which tyranny and butchery are an ever-present concern, the need for a powerful, well-resourced and transparently independent system of international justice is paramount.

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