Lawyers lobby US over international court fears

A lawyers' human rights lobby has written to US President Bill Clinton warning him that the US government's proposed restrictions on an international criminal court (ICC) threaten to undermine its independence.

The 15 leading US lawyers, members of the national council of the Washington-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, urge Clinton to “make certain that the United States leads the way in Rome for an independent ICC”.

The group includes a former attorney general, a former Court of Appeal judge and three former American Bar Association presidents.

The US government wants a United Nations Security Council veto on whether the international court can proceed in each case. It is also insisting that only the security council and individual states should be able to initiate proceedings, not the court's own prosecutor, and that prosecutions should be carried out only with the consent of the suspect's home state.

Jerry Fowler, a member of the legislative council of the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, said that the administration had not replied to the letter.

Separately, the prosecutor of the International Criminal

Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Justice Louise Arbour, speaking at an IBA seminar in Vienna last month, suggested that the statute to set up the ICC should be redrafted so that the international prosecutor would have primacy over national courts.

The statute is due to be the focus of a debate at the Rome Diplomatic Conference, starting on 15 June, which will establish the court.

Arbour said: “It is simply imperative for an effective international institution to command the co-operation of states on whose territory it must operate.”