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Published on Tuesday, September 19, 2000 in The Oregonian
Crimes Of Genocide, And Punishment
by Serop Nenjian
"A person stands a better chance of being tried and judged for killing one human being than for killing 100,000" -- Jose Ayala Lasso, Former UN Commissioner for Human Rights

In June, the United Unions preparatory commission for the creation of an International Criminal Court, after a three-week session, finalized the operational details of the Statutes necessary for the eventual functioning the proposed court.

Today, the public at large is under the impression that perpetrators of crimes of war or genocide can be judged and ultimately, punished for their crimes. This groundless impression is only a myth, encouraged by superficial or ignorant media coverage. The reality is, it has been more than fifty years since the United Nations first recognized the need to establish an international criminal court, to prosecute crimes such as genocide. In resolution 260 of December 9, 1948, the UN General Assembly recognized genocide as "a crime under international law," yet; it has only been since 1998 that concrete actions were taken to establish such a court -- a process that is still underway.

When the Paris Peace conference convened in January 1919 one of the first items on the agenda was the matter of punishing war crimes perpetrated by Germany and the Ottoman Empire. The commission, chaired by Robert Lansing, the US Secretary of State and James Scot, a leading international law scholar, argued that it is a "responsibility hitherto unknown to municipal or international law, for which there is no precedent." They denied the right of "legal penalties", while conceding the allied powers the rights for "political sanctions."

Up to the present, Lansing's statement remains the guiding principle, and the concept of Justice eludes victims since imposing "political sanctions" remains the domain of victors. Perhaps the International Court of Justice at The Hague is the embodiment of this status quo. In fact, this organization is not a court and does not dispense justice. It is only authorized to nominate ad hoc committees to review cases brought to the court by member states. Currently, the two separate ad hoc committees that are reviewing the Genocide of the Rwandans and war crimes committed in the Balkans operate within a total absence of international legal foundation, guided primarily by geopolitical considerations, while Indonesian perpetrators of the atrocities that took place in 1999 in East Timor, similar to the crimes committed in the Balkans, can enjoy total immunity for a lack of political will.

A major step in forging the missing link in the international legal order, as was strongly urged by R. Lansing in 1919, was taken in 1998 to establish a permanent International Criminal Court with the authority and the power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most serious crimes of international concern. Those are crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, as well as the crime of aggression.

In Rome, the decision to create the International Criminal Court was adopted by the plenipotentiary delegates of 128 countries in July 1998. Only seven countries voted against the decision for the creation of this court. The United States, Israel and China were among the countries that cast a negative vote. Since 1998 and to this day, the US continues her opposition to the creation of this permanent tribunal.

Without our support, the effort to create a court is undermined, though it proceeds. The black out by the media on the hollow arguments of the United States, led by Sen. Jesse Helms and his unjustified opposition to the creation of this court is disheartening since the information on this subject can only stimulate genuine human concern for the necessity of punishment -- punishment based on some legal principles and precedent.

Serop Nenjian lives in Southeast Portland.

Copyright 2000 Oregon Live


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