London, 16 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International (AI) this week launched a world appeal to establish under the United Nations auspices a permanent International Criminal Court by the year 2000. Amnesty says that this move could prevent the mass human rights violations seen this century.
AI Secretary-General Pierre Sane said that since the UN was set up, "millions have been detained in concentration camps, tortured, raped, bombarded in undefended towns and cities, deported, 'disappeared', or been victims of extra judicial executions or mass exterminations".
Amnesty says these crimes are of universal jurisdiction under which any state is duty-bound by international law to bring those responsible to justice when they are found within its territory or under its control.
The UN has two international tribunals examining war crimes in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Sane said they demonstrate that an effective system of justice can work with sufficient political will by the international community. But he also said they are only a stop-gap measure that does not offer a solution to long-term global needs.
Crimes against humanity in Argentina, Cambodia, Liberia, Iraq and other countries have largely gone unpunished, he said. It is time to ensure justice is a meaningful reality to millions of victims globally, he said.
Sane criticized UN member states, saying they have contributed to a tragedy for the whole of humanity because of their lack of will to set up an International Criminal Court.
"As long as the perpetrators remain exempt from punishment, the crimes will continue," he said.
UN lawyers first studied the feasibility of a permanent International Criminal Court to handle cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in 1948. But an Amnesty statement says their proposal was "blocked" during the Cold War years. In 1994, a final proposal was presented to the UN General Assembly, but, again, governments blocked the idea and caused delays.
Sane said the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals showed that no one is above the law and ensured that victims would see those responsible brought to justice.
"In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, humanity said 'never again'," said Sane. "The tribunals were temporary, but the human rights abuses have continued.
"When states are unable or unwilling to prosecute those responsible for massive abuses of human rights in their own courts, then an international criminal court must be available."
Amnesty believes that a draft plan drawn up by the International Law Commission goes a long way towards creating a court that will meet the highest standards of justice and fairness. But in order to be truly effective, the following safeguards are needed:
The court should have automatic jurisdiction over genocide and other crimes against humanity.
The Prosecutor should be independent, not subject to Security Council veto, and should be able to investigate cases and present indictments on his or her own initiative.
The court should be guaranteed long-term, secure UN financing.
"If the world can show that justice can prevail, perhaps we can bring a halt to these abominations," said the Secretary General of the London-based human rights movement.