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March 31, 2003: International Criminal Court - 2003-04-02

This is a Special English background report.

Last month, eighteen judges were sworn in as members of the new International Criminal Court. The ceremonies took place March eleventh in the Dutch Parliament at The Hague.

The court’s task will be to provide justice for those accused of mass murder, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The purpose of the International Criminal Court is to provide victims with somewhere to go to seek justice when national systems fail.

The idea of an International Criminal Court began after World War Two with the trials of Nazi and Japanese war criminals. The idea gained support during United Nations trials of those accused of crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Legal experts say the Geneva Conventions control how prisoners of war are freed or held for trial.

Eighty-nine nations so far have signed documents supporting the court. These nations do NOT include China, Russia, India, Iraq and the United States.

The United States opposes the International Criminal Court. It says it plans to deal with accused war criminals itself rather than permitting trials by any international court. Legal experts say the United States could hold trials of suspected war criminals using the military justice system or by using traditional courts. In either system, military officers would try the prisoner. United States law permits such a court to enforce a sentence of death for those found guilty of serious crimes.

American military officers have been told to collect details of crimes in Iraq such as killing or torturing prisoners of war. The Bush Administration already has a list of about twelve Iraqi officials including Saddam Hussein and his two sons who may be charged with crimes. Military experts have said two-hundred party leaders and security officials could also be included.

President Bush has said such war criminals will be captured and judged severely. The administration has ruled out trails in the International Criminal Court.