MONTREAL - United States-based human rights advocates are urging states that begin meeting Tuesday to choose judges for the fledgling International Criminal Court (ICC) to keep politics out of the process and elect the best candidates on their individual merits.
The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR) has expressed worries that the election of 18 judges to preside over the world's first permanent international court--set up last July to prosecute war crimes, genocide, and other crimes against humanity--will include "vote trading" and deal-making that are common in other international forums.
"It's hard to break the habit," said Fiona McKay, director of LCHR's international justice program, adding the group is "disappointed in what we're hearing...but we hope that...this election will be less dominated by those kinds of considerations than other international elections." She noted that states face a range of political pressures, sometimes applied through informal agreements, to vote for each other's candidates.
The election process to be carried out during the week-long meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York is designed to ensure a minimum number of women and of jurists from various regions around the world.
To get elected, the 43 candidates, who include 10 women, must receive votes from at least two-thirds of states. Ten of the nominees are from Africa, eight from Latin America and the Caribbean, 12 from Western Europe and Canada, seven from Eastern Europe, and six from Asia. To be nominated, they had to demonstrate expertise in criminal law or other relevant fields of international law.
"Basically we believe there's a good pool of candidates," said McKay. "What we want is the states to look at...their qualifications on merit, look at the requirements in terms of having a fair representation of women and a fair representation of all the regions in the world."
Evolution of the ICC--which will begin working in The Hague, Netherlands, later this year--was surrounded by controversy last May when the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush refused to ratify its founding treaty, the 1998 Rome Statute, signed by his predecessor Bill Clinton.
While Washington has argued that foreign nations could manipulate the ICC to prosecute U.S. military personnel and officials for political purposes, treaty supporters have countered that such action would be extremely difficult because of checks and balances built into the process.
But the U.S. has persisted and, despite an outcry from the international community, has signed bilateral agreements with nearly 20 countries under which they have promised not to surrender U.S. nationals to the Court.
Last year the United Nations Security Council granted U.S. peacekeepers and other personnel a one-year exemption from the Court's jurisdiction.
Eighty-eight nations--including all European Union (EU) states and most from Latin America, the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa--have ratified the Statute, while another 50 have so far only signed the document.
Among the more than 1,000 human rights and other advocacy groups that lobbied hard for the ICC, LCHR and the Coalition for the ICC are planning to update their websites with the results of this week's voting.
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