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Canada Floats Compromise

ROME.  Diplomats at the Conference on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court (ICC) have increased both their hopes and their worries now that a group of some 30 nations is developing what should be the core elements of any package deal on the Court.

Canada, which took the lead in organising the special closed-door meeting on Sunday, is to distribute a discussion paper to all delegations by Tuesday on the various proposals outlined during that session. The mix of ideas, described by one participant as "eclectic", is unlikely to satisfy any single delegation - but could well encourage them to develop an intricate network of compromises in coming days, sources say.

One official described the results of Sunday's discussion as "proposals that could form the basis for a package" rather than the specifics of a compromise on the shape of the ICC itself.

Philippe Kirsch, chair of the Committee of the Whole and legal adviser to Canada's foreign ministry, added that the Committee could meet to consider the discussion paper on Wednesday, and be able to consult capitals on specific proposals concerning ICC statute language on crimes and jurisdiction "no later than the end of this week".

Kirsch added that the purpose of the Sunday closed-door meeting was "to have as wide an exchange of views as possible", but he noted to delegations who were not invited to attend that "there was no decision of any kind made at the meeting".

That did not satisfy some delegations, such as Costa Rica, which chafed at being left out of the discussions. Kirsch justified keeping the numbers down to 30 because "there was a limited number of seats" available in most conference rooms. However, he added, "I did invite delegations who took part in these meetings to discuss with other delegations" in order that all non-participants would be informed.

"I don't think this issue should serve as a standard for later meetings," one Costa Rican official responded, noting that his delegation was left out while others - such as Jamaica, Jordan, Norway and South Africa - attended.

Some officials contended that a broad range of nations participated, from "like-minded" states, such as Canada itself, which favour a Court with strong prosecutorial powers and independence from the UN Security Council, to others - including Egypt, India and the United States - who have been more wary of such positions.

Although UN Under-Secretary-General Hans Corell distanced the world body from any endorsement of the meeting or role in it, he noted that "it is inevitable in all negotiations of this kind that certain states will come forward" and discuss matters in smaller groups.

"There must be some kind of coherent idea of what will to be discussed over the next few days," Corell said. But he added that all nations will be involved in making any decisions on what kind of compromises will emerge over the next few days. "Papers will be tabled ... Everyone will be on board, everyone will be informed."

One diplomat said that the Tuesday discussion paper is likely to speed the process along if it can encourage smaller delegations, including those who have spoken out less in committee meetings, to push for a deal on a strong Court. There is even some possibility that the debate in the Committee of the Whole expected for Wednesday can indicate the general support a broad compromise may win in any eventual vote.

Yet as Canada and other delegations worked out language for a discussion paper Monday night, details of what lies ahead remain murky. One European delegate said that the Sunday discussions indicate what elements - such as the relationship between the ICC and the Security Council, or the powers of the prosecutor - will have to be dealt with in a package compromise, while leaving the actual trade-offs unclear as yet.

Some of the trade-offs of an overall package deal, sources said, would likely include the dropping for the time being of the inclusion of aggression as an ICC core crime. Although aggression may be considered at a later review, most delegates have long doubted it could be defined right now in a manner that could garner wide acceptance.

The fate of other ideas on the table is less certain. France reportedly still wants nations to opt in or out of the Court's jurisdiction on a case-by-case basis, which one critic scorned as "a la carte" consent. Some NGOs in recent days have contended that the United States is putting pressure on Canada to craft difficult compromises heavily weighted in Washington's favour.

What is clear is that several nations critical of the "like-minded" group's stance on key ICC disputes have become more interested and involved in the process following the weekend. Sources said that the United States is strongly involved in discussions about elements of a deal, although no decision by US officials is expected on any of them until late in the week.

One delegate countered that Washington was simply interested in "anything   that delays things". But New Zealand delegate Felicity Wong argued, "I am convinced that the United States will be working in overdrive to have a statute with a good probability that, at a certain point in close time, they can sign it." Farhan Haq/IPS

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