This June, a decision of momentous historic dimensions is expected to be made in Rome. It will be the setting up of a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) along the lines of the International Court of Justice in the Hague now investigating atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia. The court, once operational, will be empowered to investigate, serve warrants of arrest and try crimes against humanity and international law in all signatory countries. No one will be spared, no office will be above the law.
Over the past few years, this magazine has campaigned vigorously for just such an international court. We have asked for crimes against the state -- such as embezzlement, graft, corruption and abuse and misuse of authority to be included. We are therefore delighted that this long overdue international body may soon take its rightful place in the regulatory mechanism of the world.
But there are still several hurdles to be overcome before the treaty can be signed. Intense negotiations are being carried out before a final draft is presented to ambassadors in Rome in June.
There are a number of contentious issues. Where does national sovereignty end and international law take over? When is state violence acceptable national defence and when does it become criminal? When is international military intervention (Vietnam, Iraq, Angola, Sierra Leone etc.) justified and when is it unacceptable? How far can a country go in trying to destabilise another country without falling foul of international law? Will a CIA agent, for instance, be charged with murder if he assassinates an 'undesirable' leader in a foreign country? Will the agency be charged? Will the state that employs the agency be charged?
These are just some of the issues exercising the minds of jurists, politicians and human rights activists as they hone the fine details of the draft.
Then there is the large question of implementation. How do you bring the criminal to court, especially if he or she is still in power? Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic has already been accused of gross crimes against humanity by the current international court but he continues on his merry way. Iraq's Sadam Husein has held his whole nation hostage and is pounding the Kurds and Shias -- but who can bring him to court?
What about the unspeakable atrocities committed in Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone? Who were the authors? Can they be brought to justice?
We have not even mentioned the lesser crimes: detention...