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An international criminal court would be unable to deal with the majority of those responsible for war crimes according to delegates at the 10th annual Society for the Reform of Criminal Law conference.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for the setting up of the international court to combat "crimes against humanity". But drawing on lessons learned from the war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, speakers at the conference in London last month said it would be impossible to bring all the guilty parties to justice.
Steven Kay QC, counsel for Dusan Tadic, the first defendant at the Yugoslav tribunal, told delegates only a handful of the thousands of Balkan war criminals would ever be tried: "The entire European criminal justice system would be swamped if we tried to bring to justice all those responsible."
Kay added that an international criminal court would face the same dilemma and was in danger of being just a cosmetic exercise.
Professor Roger Clark, a former member of the United Nations Committee on Crime Prevention and Control, told the conference the problem was even more obvious in Rwanda.
He said: "87,000 people are in prison charged with genocide. The Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal may try 20 people if it is lucky."