Published on Tuesday, August 22, 2000 in the Manchester Guardian (UK)
Britain Snubs US On World Court
by Ewen MacAskill
The British government will formally break ranks with the US on Friday by supporting the creation of an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Downing Street confirmed yesterday that the foreign secretary, Robin Cook, is to publish a consultation paper and a draft bill paving the way for British participation in the court. Britain would become a founder member.

The aim is to push the bill speedily through the next session of parliament in preparation for the setting up of the court in 2002. Opposition parties have been asked to cooperate in this.

The US is one of seven countries - including China, Saudi Arabia and Libya - opposed to the court. Washington claims that it cannot allow its soldiers or politicians to fall under the jurisdiction of an international court over which it might have little or no control.

Supporters of the court counter that most US international military intervention has been done under the banner of international law, whether the UN or Nato, and those involved in it could not be held accountable.

They hope it will prevent abuses of human rights on the scale of Rwanda, the Balkans and East Timor. It will be a permanent body, unlike the Hague tribunal trying Balkan war criminals.

Francis Maude, the shadow foreign affairs spokesman, signalled yesterday that the Conservatives will avoid delaying the bill. "In principle we are in favour. We are ready to co-operate," he said.

The impetus to establish the court came after the Balkan atrocities of the early 1990s. The UN security council asked an international law commission to draft a plan, which was agreed at an international conference in Rome in 1998.

The court will not be able to act retrospectively. Incidents in Chechnya, East Timor or elsewhere before 2002 will not fall within its remit.

Britain usually acts in tandem with US in foreign policy, but in the case of the court it has opted for solidarity with the rest of the EU, all of whose members support the idea.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000