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As Second Week Begins, Outline of Workable Court Looms

The outline of a workable International Criminal Court appears to be emerging as the Rome negotiations enter their second week, said Bill Pace of the NGO Coalition for an ICC.

"The opening week was more instructive and positive than it was expected to be only a few weeks ago, he said Monday.

Apart from the fact that procedural rules were settled quickly, he said coalition found encouraging the fact that support has been growing for an independent court able to hold its own amid clashing international interests.

Seen against the fact that it has taken decades for the idea of an ICC to be politically possible, Pace said that it was "amazing" that an ICC was likely to become reality, as a legal entity, by July.

A number of factors had contributed to this "quiet process," Pace explained. The ad hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, and the end of the Cold War had been "quiet plusses," as had been the level of cooperation between NGOs across regional and national groups, and their ability to focus on a relatively specific roster. "It was very different at the Vienna, Tokyo and Cairo conferences," Pace said.

So far, he says, some key countries have softened original objections to a strong prosecutor. Other contentious remain, however, such as the power the United Nations Security Council would have over the work of the ICC and its prosecutor, and the extent to which it can cross the boundaries of national sovereignty.

France's support for an ICC prosecutor able to initiate proceedings when decided jointly by a pre-trial chamber is welcome, activists say. "It shows France has adopted the kind of constructive leadership necessary for a successful conference," Pace said. Dveloping countries are also speaking up in support of a prosecutor with real clout.

At the same time, sovereignty remains a ticklish issue. "One of the most important challenges facing delegates is to convince their countries that a restricted consent regime will bring about greater justice," Pace added.

Many NGOs also want other crimes listed in those offenses covered by an ICC, but are aware of complications these may bring about. "The crimes included in the statute will be the core crimes listed under the Geneva convention.

Many NGOs would like to see aggression included , but are wary of doing so because of the power it would give the Security Council," he said. And while NGOs would like to see terrorism included in the court's docket "over time", they recognised that this would be difficult to do so at present, when no prior common legal understanding of this crime exists, Pace said.

The point, however, is "we should not be undermining existing humanitarian law. If we do so, there will be some serious problems," Pace said. He added there was a good chance that most of the issues adopted by the women's caucus would make it onto the court's statute.

Crimes against humanity be defined as illegal not just in international conflict situations, but during national conflicts as well. "It is also important for the court to succeed in extending the court's brief to peacetime. This would have important implications for governments. If the ICC draft treaty is ratified, as is highly likely, overt and covert military operations will be severely constrained in the next century," he added.

"Governments will be forced to pay closer attention to such issues as disappearance and enslavement. Even these crimes will fall under the custom of international law," Pace concluded. Alison Dickens 

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