INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT ON VERGE OF BECOMING
Preparatory Meeting for Court Begins Two-Week Session
NEW YORK, 8 April (UN Headquarters) --The first permanent international criminal court designed to investigate and prosecute individuals for the most heinous crimes against humanity -- a 50-year goal of the United Nations -- was on the verge of becoming a reality, the Chairman of the Preparatory Commission for the Court told delegates this morning, as the Commission opened its ninth session.
A number of countries are expected to formally deposit their ratifications of the treaty creating the Court at a ceremony on Thursday, 11 April, which, when added to the current 56 ratifying countries, will meet or exceed the 60 necessary for the Court’s jurisdiction to come into effect, the Chairman, Philippe Kirsch (Canada), announced. That would mean that, in accordance with the Court’s Statute, as of 1 July crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction -- genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity --- would become subject to possible international prosecution by the Court.
"Ours is a race against time", Mr. Kirsch told the Commission, which has had the task, since the treaty was adopted in Rome in July 1998, of negotiating the practical and technical arrangements necessary to allow the Court to function. The Commission is in the last stages of negotiations on the final remaining issues, namely, a first-year budget for the Court and administrative and financial matters connected to the initial meeting of the Assembly of States Parties, now expected to take place in The Hague sometime in September 2002. The Commission is also dealing with arrangements for the nomination and election procedure for judges, the prosecutor and the registrar, as well as their remuneration; and a trust fund for victims and witnesses.
The following countries informed the Commission of their recent ratifications: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Ireland, Jordan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Romania, and Slovakia. Also, Colombia, Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that they were in the advanced stages of the ratification process.
The priority was for the Court to be fully operational from day one, the representative of the Netherlands, the host country of the Court, told delegates. Provisional premises for the Court had been identified, and work was proceeding on security and other matters, such as office space, media space and conference rooms.
The representative of Norway announced his country’s contribution of approximately 784,000 euros to cover early financial needs of the Assembly of States Parties and preliminary Court operations.
A recommendation was made this morning that an advance team of experts in specific fields be chosen as soon as possible to ensure that a basic infrastructure existed to receive the first officials of the Court and to safeguard information received after the treaty’s entry into force that might serve as evidence in a future proceeding. The Coordinator for the issue identified an immediate need for systems to be set up concerning human resources, finances, computer and technology, security, building management, public information and legal questions.
At the Rome Conference, the Commission was also specifically requested to prepare proposals on the conditions under which the Court could exercise its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression. Once agreement is reached on a legal definition of that crime, the draft text will be presented to an International Criminal Court amendment conference, which may be convened seven years after the Court becomes operational. In the meantime, the working group on the subject continues to discuss the various proposals.
A review conference of States parties would also have the authority to include other crimes under its jurisdiction. During the Rome Conference, some speakers called for such issues as terrorism, international drug trafficking, and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons to be covered by the Court. Although there was concern about overtaxing the Court in its initial stages, a door was left open for future inclusion of those matters.
The Commission, which remains in existence until the conclusion of the first meeting of the Assembly of States Parties, has already successfully concluded texts on Rules of Procedure and Evidence (the rules cover such issues as composition and administration of the Court, penalties for crimes, obligations of international cooperation and assistance, and enforcement of sentences); the Elements of Crimes (that is, the identification of the elements that actually constitute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity); a relationship agreement between the Court and the United Nations; a relationship agreement between the Court and the host country of its headquarters (The Hague, Netherlands); financial rules and regulations for the Court; and privileges and immunities of the Court.
In addition to the current session which runs from 8 to 19 April, one more session will be held from 1 to 12 July, also at United Nations Headquarters.
Participation in the work of the Commission is open to all States that were invited to the Rome Conference, including those which have not yet signed the Statute. Representatives of relevant regional intergovernmental organizations and international bodies, including the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, may participate as observers. Non-governmental organizations also may participate in the Commission’s open meetings.
One hundred and thirty-nine countries have signed the treaty, including the United States which signed just hours before the treaty closed for signing on 31 December 2000.
The 13-part Statute of the International Criminal Court was adopted by an unrecorded vote of 120 in favour to 7 against, with 21 abstentions, on 17 July 1998 at the Rome Conference. States parties to the Rome Statute, the Security Council and the Court’s Prosecutor will have the power to bring cases before the Court, which will be presided over by judges from 18 different countries. It will have an independent prosecutor elected through secret ballot by States that have ratified the Statute. The Court will not have the power to prosecute for crimes committed prior to the coming into force of the Statute.
The Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court will meet again at 9:30 a.m. on 11 April for the ceremony for the deposit of the remaining ratifications needed to bring the International Criminal Court treaty into force.
PHILIPPE KIRSCH (Canada), Chairman of the Preparatory Commission, presided over the election, by acclamation, of Mirza Kusljugic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) as Commission Vice-Chairman from the Eastern European Group.
Regarding financing for convening the Assembly of States Parties upon entry into force of the Statute, as well as subsequent expenses, he recalled that under General Assembly resolution 56/85, such expenses would be paid in advance to the Organization through an appropriate mechanism to be set up. A Trust Fund had been established with the assistance of the Secretary-General, and in a 5 March circular notifying States of that Trust Fund, the Secretariat had indicated that funds should be deposited no later than June, so that arrangements could be made for a September convening of the States Parties Assembly.
The Bureau, he said, was aware of the concerns of some delegations regarding whether contributions to the Trust Fund would be deducted from their assessed contribution to the first-year budget. In the Bureau’s view, it was reasonable that it be so deducted -- since the costs of the first meeting were part of the first-year budget -- and it was appropriate for the Preparatory Commission to make such a recommendation to the Assembly of States Parties. Valentin Zellweger (Switzerland) would be the focal point on that issue.
On other outstanding issues, he said there would be a race against time to reach agreement in the two remaining sessions of the Preparatory Commission scheduled for this year. At the Preparatory Commission’s last meeting, the Commission decided that, in addition to the working groups on the First-Year Budget, Principles Governing a Headquarters Agreement and the Crime of Aggression, two additional working groups would be established: the Working Group on Assembly of States Parties preparatory documents, and the Working Group on financial issues. He announced coordinators for the working groups, as well as three additional focal points for outstanding practical issues, and reminded the meeting of the importance of inter-Group coordination, as many outstanding issues had financial implications.
A subcommittee, he said, had also been created to serve as interlocutor to the host country, and announced its membership. To allow the Court to be able to perform certain basic, key functions at the time of entry into force of the Rome Statute, that interlocutory mechanism had proposed the establishment of a small group of mid-level technical experts. He introduced the following speakers to brief the meeting on the considerations of these groups.
SYLVIA FERNANDEZ DE GURMENDI (Argentina), briefing the Commission about the recent activities of the subcommittee serving as the interlocutor with the host country, said the subcommittee had met several times with the host country. In its deliberations, the subcommittee had been guided by the general principles contained in the Commission’s road map to ensure the effective establishment of the Court. As the representative of the host country would be speaking about premises for the Court, she would focus on the two important issues of organizing an inter-sessional meeting and the creation of an advance team to handle basic functions.
A meeting of experts had analysed rules and regulations used by the United Nations system, in particular, those applied by the Tribunals that might be provisionally applied by the Court in its initial stages. A document summarizing the discussions on such issues as human resource needs, budgetary and financial matters, and administrative requirements would be distributed tomorrow, she said.
It was the opinion of the host country and experts familiar with the Tribunals that an advance team should be established as soon as possible. The advance team could ensure that a basic infrastructure existed to receive the first officials of the Court; to safeguard information received after the treaty’s entry into force that might serve as evidence in a future proceeding; and to allow the Court to be able to function as soon as possible after its establishment. She identified an immediate need for systems to be set up concerning human resources, finances, computer and technology, security, building management, public information and legal questions.
Those functions should be considered the shared responsibility of the host country and the international community, she said. It would be advisable to set up a balanced and small nucleus of experts with experience in the jobs needed to be done. The experts could be chosen by the Chairman and would function until the first meeting of States parties.
EDMOND WELLENSTEIN (Netherlands) described the national task force that had been set up by his country to prepare for the International Criminal Court. It was an inter-ministerial group with experts from the Ministries of Finance, Justice, Housing, Interior and Foreign Affairs, as well as from the municipality of The Hague. Their work had been enriched by the creation of the interlocutory mechanism for host country affairs.
The recent meeting on operational matters, involving 170 experts from many countries and underwritten by Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom, attested to the high level of commitment from all over the world to making the Court a reality as soon as possible, he said. The rules and regulations that came out of that meeting could be used provisionally in the early operation of the Court. Human resources, budget and finance, and operational issues had all been covered in detail.
Premises for the International Criminal Court had been identified close to the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Security and other matters, such as office space, media space and conference rooms, were issues under active consideration, and alternative premises might be soon identified. The priority was for the Court to be fully operational from day one.
Officers of Commission
The officers of the Preparatory Commission are as follows: Chairman, Philippe Kirsch (Canada); Vice-Chairmen, George Winston McKenzie (Trinidad and Tobago), Medard R. Rwelamira (South Africa), and Mirza Kusljugic (Bosnia and Herzegovina). The Rapporteur is Salah Suheimat (Jordan).
The following are coordinators for topics at the Preparatory Commission: Zsolt Hetesy (Hungary), Principles Governing a Headquarters Agreement; Saied Mirzaiee-Yengejeh (Iran), Assembly of States Parties preparatory documents; Valentin Zellweger (Switzerland), First-Year Budget; Christian Much (Germany), financial issues; John Holmes (Canada), remuneration of judges, the prosecutor and the registrar; Gaile Ramoutar (Trinidad and Tobago), victims and witnesses trust fund; and Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, the Crime of Aggression.
The summary of proceedings of the eighth session, covering the work of the Commission and information on its remaining working groups -- crimes of aggression, budget for the first financial year, and a head- quarters agreement between the Court and the host country -- is numbered PCNICC/2001/L.3/Rev.1 and Add.1.
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