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Europe: City Of Nuremberg Wants To Host U.N.'s Criminal Court

Munich, 26 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The German city of Nuremberg, which hosted the Nazi war crimes trials in 1946, wants to become the seat of the United Nations permanent criminal court.

The court is expected to be approved in June next year at an international conference in Rome. According to present plans it would hear cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Many experts favor the Dutch capital, the Hague, as the seat of the new court because it is already the seat of the International Court of Justice, which considers disputes between States. It is also the site of the international court trying those accused of committing atrocities during the Yugoslav war. But Nuremberg's mayor, Ludwig Scholz, believes his city is the logical choice.

"This is where the trial of this century's greatest criminals took place," he said. "it makes sense that others who commit similar crimes should also be tried here. Like no other city in Europe, it is the most suitable for such a court."

Scholz also argues that the direct link with Nuremberg will emphasize the international community's insistence that those responsible for international aggression and crimes against humanity should face trial whether they are old Nazis or a new breed.

The Mayor freely admits that the bid for the new international court is only part of a larger goal. Scholz says that in the long term Nuremberg wants to become an international center for human rights with study centers and international symposiums and conferences. It already awards a human rights prize every two years. Some officials in Nuremberg would like this become the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for human rights.

Nuremberg has the support of the Bavarian provincial Government and its premier Edmund Stoiber. But it has so far failed to win a commitment from the Federal Government in Bonn, which is essential if it is to persuade the United Nations to consider its bid. A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry told inquirers this week "it is an interesting proposal but the Government has not discussed it."

The spokesman said Nuremberg's offer to host the new court "demonstrates that the city is aware of its historical responsibility and wants to make a contribution to the world-wide acceptance of human rights." But he said there were a number of political factors which could make it difficult for the Government to support Nuremberg.

Among them is the widespread support for the Hague as the seat of the court and recognition that Germany would be sharply criticized within the European Union if it made a rival bid. There is also the fact that Germany already hosts an international courts -- the U.N.-sponsored court dealing with the law of the sea, which has just begun operations in Hamburg.

Negotiations on establishing the international criminal court are still in progress. More than 100 Governments and non-governmental organizations are involved in the talks. Some of the issues are controversial. For instance, some countries want the competence of the new court extended so that it can try Governments accused of unprovoked aggression against another. Other countries strongly oppose giving it this right.

It has also been suggested that the new court be given a mandate to hear international crimes such as terrorism, drug trafficking, air piracy and racism. Discussions are still continuing on these proposals.

A U.S. law professor, Richard Wilson, who is engaged in the negotiations, told a human rights conference in Nuremberg that the court would probably have 18 judges who would be appointed for nine years. The language of the court would probably be limited to English and French.

But Professor Wilson said several major issues remain to be settled, particularly the independence of the international court and the relationship between the international court and national courts.

Some countries have suggested that the international court should be activated only when national courts are unwilling or unable to handle such issues as genocide or crimes against humanity. Others fear that some governments would misuse such a situation to open only pro forma cases in national courts and so avoid a real hearing.

The human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, which is based in Brussels, has suggested that in such cases the international court should simply launch its own proceedings. But this idea has not met with general approval.

The independence of the courts is also controversial. Professor Wilson said the U.S. has argued that the U.N. Security Council should exercise a strict control over the proceedings of the international court. But a group of 42 others, led by Germany, believe the court should have the greatest possible independence.

There is also the question of how to deal with governments which refuse to accept the jurisdiction of the international court in the case of genocide or other crimes. Would they then be considered beyond the law? And if so, how would the international community punish them. There is no agreement on this.