The International Criminal Court and enlarging the scope of International Humanitarian Law
Regional-Syria, Politics, 12/16/2003
The International committee of the Red Cross in Syria held on December 13 and 14 a symposium under the title "The International Criminal Court and Enlarging the Scope of the International Humanitarian Law," at Rida Saeed conference hall of Damascus university.
The President of the International Court, Philippe Kirsch, attended the events of the symposium. However, the past century witnessed some of the worst atrocities in the history of humanity. In too many cases, these crimes have been committed with impunity, which has only encouraged others to flout the laws of humanity. Based on the Rome Statute of 1998, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in July 2002 to help end the impunity and gross violations of International Humanitarian law the last century had witnessed.
The two day symposium brought about some 20 experts and judges from Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Libya, Egypt, the United Kingdom, France, Ireland, Canada, and Germany who debated in their interventions the impact of the ICC on the implementation of International Humanitarian Law. The participants took part in four session on: distinction between combatants and non- combatants, international and non international armed conflicts, responsibility of states and individuals, and on the definition of the "elements of crimes."
Moreover, an additional roundtable will be raising a crucial question:" What is it expected from the International Criminal court." Worthy mentioning that up to November 28th, 92 states had already ratified the Statute of the International Criminal court.
Key note speeches at the opening session were read by Dr. Murtada. Judge Philippe Kirsch, President of the International Criminal Court. Judge Hans- Peter- Kaul, International Criminal Court; Dr. Abdul Rahman al-Attar, President of the Syrian Red Crescent society and ICRC chief of delegation in Damascus Dieter Pfaff.
In his presentation, Pfaff said that this symposium represents the fourth edition of a series, with focus on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) which the ICRC has organized in Syria since the year 2000.
In a statement to ArabicNews.com, President of the International Criminal Court and Judge for the Appeal Chamber, Philippe Kirsch, said replying a question on measures that should be taken by Syria to ratify the ICC, that the exact measure to be taken by Syria in this regard, depends on the internal decision making process in Syria, but it also requires a decision of the government to ratify that. He added that this requires agreement among the Syrian ministries involved, mainly, the Ministry of Foreign affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defense. He said he had met with the Syrian Minister of Justice "who has said he will consider the issue of Syria's ratifying the ICC." To this effect judge Kirsch detailed that if the issued decision is positive, Syria would review its legislation to be consistent with the obligations that it had accepted under the ICC Statute.
Replying to another question on that which Arab states and other countries in the world are reluctant to join the ICC, judge Kirsch said: at the end of Rome conference, 120 states voted for the Statute, and two years later 137 countries signed it including 12 Arab states. He said Algeria, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Syria and Djibouti are among others (who did not). He indicated that this means that the Arab states, which had serious problems in Rome, began to consider the Statute and count more positively. He noted "we believe that the standard is a very strong legal foundation, which ensures a purely judicial process and not a political process, which allow the court to meet highest standards of jurisdiction." He also expressed conviction that some states want to see in practice how the court operates. He emphasized "I am confident that the court will rapidly develop much credibility, and thereby attract increasing support from states."
On his assessment on the newly established war criminal court in Iraq by the American forces, and if this court is a violation to the ICC. Judge Kirsch said that the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is part of a much broader movement towards the strengthening of criminal justice. He explained that in this process, criminal ad hoc tribunals for specific situations have had an important role to play. If allegations of crimes, concern crimes that were committed before July 1at 2002 ( when the ICC was established ), then the ICC will not have jurisdiction, and that explains the usefulness of an ad hoc tribunals.
"Ultimately, the purpose of creation of the ICC is to have in place a permanent International Criminal Court, and that would make special international courts unnecessary," Judge Kirsch concluded.
However, in his discussion, President of the International Criminal Court Philippe Kirsch said that the creation of the International Criminal court (ICC) is a major development; it is part of a boarder momentum in the 1990s towards the revival and development of the international criminal justice and of International Humanitarian Law.
He addressed four aspects of the ICC: the background to its creation; the way in which it was constructed; the balances contained in the ICC system and the court today.
Some of the conclusions Judge Kirsch reached were that: the ICC must become universal and needs to be open. He said that since the court cannot act alone, this requires the cooperation and participation of states. He noted the need to maintain a dialogue with states and other parties on questions of concern. He added that in particular, the court needs more dialogue from the Arab states, hoping to develop the dialogue between the court and the Arab states.
Giving a historical background to this issues, Pfaff said that armed conflict is as old as mankind. And norms to limit the effects of hostilities have existed in all societies. He said that Arab and Islamic history is particularly is rich in exampled of the respect of human dignity. He cited an example the advices which Khalif Ali Ibn Abi Talib gave to his soldiers "If you are victorious over them, do not finish them off, do not disrobe them, do not mutilate the dead, do not tear a veil. Do not enter a house without permission! Do not take any of their belongings. Do not harass women, even if they curse you or your Emir."
Pfaff continued that these were formulated in the 7th century, and these rules contain already the essential principles of international humanitarian law, namely: the prevention and limitation of human suffering; the protection of "personnes hors de combat;" the distinction between combatants and non- combatants; the limitation on the behavior of the combatants.
He said that in its 140 years of working as a neutral and impartial intermediary in the field to protect and assist victims of war and other forms of violence, the ICRC has learned many lessons about human suffering.
One of these lessons is, that impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide impedes the course of reconciliation, and fuels the cycle of retribution and revenge. In other words, impunity contributes to the perpetuation of conflict.
He indicated that millions of innocent lives have been lost in war, in flagrant violation of the laws developed to protect the victims of armed conflict. Non- fulfillment of obligations accepted by the majority of states to prosecute and punish IHL violators has created a safe environment for the architects of such inhumane behavior.
Giving a wide spectrum to this issue, the ICRC official that this attracted universal revulsion, and it was the atrocities committed during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda that ultimately provoked the international community to respond to this situation. He said that these events consolidated a determination to end the "culture of impunity." The establishment of ad hoc international criminal tribunals for the prosecution of serious violations of international humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda has been instrumental in bringing to a successful conclusions years of effort to establish a permanent International Criminal Court.
He continued that the practice of these two ad hoc institutions has and will have a positive impact on the enforcement of international humanitarian law and its further development He detailed that in its endeavor to promote IHL, the ICRC focuses, in particular; on those groups who determine the fate of victims of armed conflict or who can obstruct or facilitate ICRC action.
He noted that these groups include armed forces, police and other bearers of weapons, decision makers and opinion leaders at all levels of the society. He said that the strategy behind these activities, which are held in close cooperation with the National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies comprises three levels: awareness building; promotion of humanitarian law through teaching and training; and integration of humanitarian law into official legal, educational and operational curricula.
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