Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Failings of the international court

Letter to the Times - October 9th 2001

Sir

Dr. Gavin Strang (letter, October 9) admits that the International Criminal Court would be unable to act against those who committed the atrocities in New York and Washington because it will not have retrospective jurisdiction. Even if it did, it would not apply to Osama bin Laden, since the statute applies only to "state actors". Indeed, the exclusion of terrorists from its provisions and the asymmetry which this creates was one of the major criticisms levelled at the final draft by several states which have refused to sign.

The very wide definitions of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which include not only rape but the bombing of an art gallery, coupled with the concept of "command responsibility" which would, for example, have made both President Nixon and General Westmoreland personally responsible for the My Lai massacre despite having no foreknowledge of it, create special problems.

The principle of "command responsibility" could also help to generate a belief amongst individuals whose behaviour might otherwise be circumscribed by the existence of the court, that in the event of losing a war they would be found guilty of something anyway, thus depriving the court of much of its deterrent power.

As for Gavin Strang's suggestion that completion of the ratification process would "leave no hiding place for future war criminals", the court's jurisdiction would not extend beyond the citizens of signatory states.

There is certainly a strong argument for an international court, but those who want to see terrorists included in its provisions and the court to function as an effective barrier to truly evil crimes should demand that it be redrafted as a matter of urgency. Unless that happens it may do more harm than good, and President Bush is right not to sign.

Yours faithfully

Dr. Charles Tannock MEP (Con)
Brussels