U.S. Is Undermining International Criminal Court, U.S. Attorney Says

As a law student, Melanie Partow clerked for the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. She is in Denver today speaking about the history of the ICC, ongoing ICC investigations and the role of the court in current conflicts.One of the first American law students to participate in the operations of the International Criminal Court is in Denver this week talking with current law students about the ICC, the cases under investigation and the role the United States has played in undermining the court’s mandate.

Melanie Partow clerked for ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo at the court’s headquarters in The Hague during her last year of law school in 2004. She is now a practicing attorney in Los Angeles.

“The ICC is a judicial mechanism meant to deter impunity,” Partow told a group of students Monday night at the Colorado History Museum. “By deterring impunity it discourages the commission of similar crimes in the future. It sends a message that there is a price to pay.”

The ICC was established in 2002 as a permanent tribunal, independent of the United Nations, to prosecute individual defendants for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The founding treaty of the court, the Rome Statute, has been signed and ratified by 105 nations. The United States is not one of them.

The ICC has received thousands of communications about alleged crimes in nearly 140 countries. After initial review, the vast majority of these claims are dismissed as outside the jurisdiction of the court. So far, the ICC prosecutor has opened investigations in just four countries — Uganda; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the Central African Republic; and Darfur, Sudan. There have been no convictions, no acquittals, not even a trial associated with the ICC so far, and Partow said many people misinterpret that to mean the Court is somehow mismanaged or ineffective.

“When you understand the obstacles the court faces, you understand why it takes so long,” Partow said. “The ICC must rely on the cooperation of states that refuse to cooperate. There is a lot of political opposition to the ICC so it’s important that whatever happens there be completely credible, and you have to balance that with efficiency.”

The ICC has to date issued 10 public arrest warrants for suspected war criminals in the four states where the court is investigating. Two suspects have died; three others have surrendered to the ICC.

In February 2006, the ICC prosecutor publicly responded to complaints his office had received concerning the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. He wrote that it was reasonable to believe some war crimes were committed there but concluded the alleged crimes did not appear to be grave enough to warrant an ICC investigation.

Partow highlighted the role the United States, and particularly the Bush administration, has played in snubbing the court. She noted the passage of the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act adopted by Congress in 2002. The purpose of this amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act is to protect U.S. officials or military personnel from prosecution in an international criminal court that the United States is not a member of. It also prohibits all federal, state and local governments and agencies from assisting the ICC, effectively weakening the ICC and undermining its mandate, Partow said.

The United States and other countries must commit to the ICC and sign and ratify the Rome Statute for the court to succeed, she said. Partow encouraged her audience to learn about the ICC, read the Rome Statute and share the information with people they know.

“I think that is the only way to move this thing forward and support its success,” she said.

Partow will speak again at noon today in room 190 at the University of Denver Sturm School of Law.


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