World Court for Crimes of War
Opens in The Hague
THE HAGUE (New York Times), March 11 — Fiercely
opposed by the Bush administration and long awaited by other countries,
a new and permanent international criminal court for dealing with
dictators and war criminals formally opened today with the swearing
in of its bench of 18 judges.
The court's task will be to try individuals — not nations
or armies — accused of large-scale crimes against civilians.
The judges, 11 men and 7 women from all over the world, will be
part of what was called today the most ambitious initiative in
the history of modern international law.
Dressed in black gowns, the 18 judges took their oath of office
in a 14th-century hall of the Dutch Parliament, before jurists,
diplomats, politicians and government ministers from more than
One by one, their right hands raised, the judges pledged to perform
their duties "honorably, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously." They
also promised to respect "the confidentiality of investigations
and prosecutions and the secrecy of deliberations."
The group elected a president, Philippe Kirsch, a Canadian judge
and international law specialist.
Supporters hope the new institution will play a crucial role in
averting as well as prosecuting major human rights abuses. Although
the court is independent of the United Nations, Secretary General
Kofi Annan was present and said he was looking forward to supporting
its cause, "which is the cause of all humanity." He urged
the judges to act without fear or favor. "Unspeakable crimes
must be deterred," Mr. Annan said, adding that deterrence
has been missing in the past. "It is needed today as much
as ever, and it will be needed in the future."
But the Bush administration, fearing that a politicized prosecutor
could indict American officials or military personnel on missions
abroad, has actively campaigned against the institution and pressed
many governments into deals to disregard any subpoena issued for
an American citizen. Washington has obtained such deals from 21
nations, mainly poor countries dependent on United States aid.
No American officials attended the ceremony, but some American
legal experts did, among them Theodor Meron, a professor at New
York University Law School who was recently appointed president
of the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal, as well as two elderly lawyers
who had played a role at the Nuremberg trials. One of them, Benjamin
B. Ferencz, 82, said the current American leadership "seems
to have forgotten the lessons we tried to teach the rest of the
Several speakers tried to dispel the fears of America and others — including
China, India, Iraq and Turkey — who are not among the 89
that have ratified the Rome Treaty that created the court in 1998.
Prince Zeid al-Hussein of Jordan, who presided over the court's
parent body, said the new court "is not the world's crucible
for vengeance" but a "court of last resort." Its
statutes dictate that it must defer to national courts first.
The prosecutor, who is expected to be selected in April, can issue
indictments only in cases where national courts are unwilling or
unable to deal with grave atrocities, like war crimes, crimes against
humanity and genocide. The court has no jurisdiction over single
abuses, but only over those that have been "systematic or
widespread." A panel of judges must approve any indictment
before it can be issued.
The shadow of a possible war in Iraq was also very present today.
As the new court pledged to uphold the rule of law, several speakers
expressed fears of a breakdown of international law if the United
States and Britain waged war on Iraq without United Nations approval.
With neither the United States nor Iraq members of the court, however,
it seems unlikely that this new tribunal will play any role in
prosecutions stemming from the war. British troops however could
in theory be vulnerable in case of abuses.
The court's jurisdiction covers only crimes committed after July
1, 2002. Anyone can bring charges, individuals, groups, governments,
and the United Nations Security Council.
Once before in history, corporate managers were tried
and sentenced by a War Tribunal.
Read more about the Nuremberg War Tribunal
Spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The 18 judges of the International Criminal Court will meet on
March 11 to be sworn in at the ICC’s official inauguration
ceremony in The Hague, where it is headquartered.
These 18 judges were elected during the week of February 3-7 by
the Assembly of States Parties to the Statute establishing the
International Criminal Court. One of the judges, Mr. Claude Jorda,
is French; he has presided over the International Criminal Tribunal
for the Former Yugoslavia since November 1999.
The judges will be responsible for passing sentences on those
responsible for crimes against humanity, crimes of genocide and
war crimes, while respecting the principle of complementarity with
the jurisdictions of the States Parties, today numbering 89.
France, the second-largest contributor to the budget of the Court,
sees this day as the culmination of long efforts to promote the
creation of a permanent, independent and universal judicial institution.
France will be represented at the March 11 ceremony by Justice
Minister Dominique Perben and Deputy European Affairs Minister