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PLANS to establish an international criminal court received a setback last week when the US, France and China were accused by the human rights lobby of blocking the establishment of an effective and fair court.
The recriminations came as representatives from more than 100 countries met at the United Nations in New York in an attempt to thrash out the details of the proposed court.
Although the court has the backing of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, it emerged last week that China was opposed to the idea, while France had reservations despite the support of the European Union.
US president Bill Clinton has said he is in favour of the court but the US was heavily criticised last week over its demands that the five members of the UN security council, the US, China, Russia, France and the UK, should have a veto over any prosecutions at the court.
A report from international pressure group Human Rights Watch, issued to coincide with the UN meeting, was scathing about the US demands. "The goal appears to be avoiding even the remotest possibility that an American might end up in the dock," said the report.
The row came as several high-profile figures within the UN and the EU, including the respective human rights commissioners for the two organisation, Mary Robinson and Emma Bonino, stepped up pressure for the speedy creation of the court.
Bonino expressed "deep concern" at the attitude of the US, China and France but said every effort was being made to ensure the court would go ahead.
Bonino said that even at the most optimistic estimate she could not see the court being operational before 2002. She added that she was unaware of any alternative to The Hague being mentioned as a location for the court.