US lines up with France to limit court

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The Independent Online
THE UNITED STATES and France yesterday demanded tough curbs on the proposed International Criminal Court, but offered some compromises that would allow it to go ahead.

Addressing a crucial conference in Rome to finalise a treaty for the court, Washington's ambassador to the United Nations warned against turning the court into a "human rights ombudsman" that would allow all kinds of frivolous or politically motivated complaints.

Drawing a clear distinction with what happened at the Nuremberg tribunal on Nazi war crimes, Bill Richardson added that the court should not be empowered to prosecute individuals accused of waging national aggression.

"We must distinguish between what looks good on paper and what works in the real world," he told the 156-nation conference.

To the dismay of human rights group, Washington's stance aligns the US with France, China and other countries opposed to a genuinely independent ICC operating free of Security Council control.

Mr Richardson said the court should refer cases to the Security Council for approval. However, he did not specifically demand the right of veto - something critics say would turn the court into the creature of the five permanent members.

If that was a hint of compromise, so too was France's willingness yesterday to allow the ICC to proceed on its own initiatives in cases of genocide and crimes against humanity.

But Hubert Vedrine, the French Foreign Minister, said the court should only be able to prosecute suspects from countries which had ratified the treaty. Critics say this would make it impossible, for instance, to go after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Although a large bloc of so-called "like-minded" countries, including Britain, Canada and most of Europe favour a strong and independent court, they fear it would not be workable without Washington's agreement.

The stage is thus set for some very hard bargaining before July 17, the target date for completion of the treaty.