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Despite vehement U.S. opposition, the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal will come into force on July 1, after receiving more than the 60 needed ratifications Thursday from U.S. allies and nations around the globe. Hundreds of supporters of the court rose to their feet in a standing ovation after 10 nations deposited their ratifications of the Rome treaty, which establishes the International Criminal Court. But the U.S. seat in the crowded chamber was empty. The United States boycotted the ceremony, just as it has not attended meetings preparing for the court’s operations since last year. “Those who commit war crimes, genocide or other crimes against humanity will no longer be beyond the reach of justice,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a video statement from Rome. “Humanity will be able to defend itself — responding to the worst of human nature with one of the greatest human achievements: the rule of law.” Many countries and organizations have campaigned for years for the court to fill a gap first noticed in 1948, after the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials of German and Japanese war crimes during World War II. Since then, laws and treaties have outlawed genocide, poison gas and chemical weapons, among other things — but no mechanism has held individuals criminally responsible. The United States has been the only vocal opponent of the permanent court, fearing its citizens would be subject to frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions. Washington has campaigned unsuccessfully to exempt U.S. soldiers and officials from the court. Former President Clinton signed the treaty during his administration, but the United States has refused to ratify it. Two weeks ago the Bush administration said it was considering “unsigning” the treaty to stress that it won’t be bound by its provisions. “I urge all those states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Rome Statute as a matter of priority,” U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson told a meeting in Geneva on Thursday. After the ratifications were submitted, a U.N. legal official announced the court would come into force on July 1. The court is expected to become operational soon after the states that ratified it meet in early 2003 to select a prosecutor and judges, said Philippe Kirsch, chairman of the commission preparing for the court’s operation and Canada’s ambassador to Sweden. The court will step in only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves for the most serious crimes committed by individuals: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It will have jurisdiction only over crimes committed after the treaty enters into force. Cases can come to the court through a state that has ratified the treaty, the U.N. Security Council, or the court’s prosecutor, who must get the approval of a three-judge panel. The 1998 Rome treaty has been signed by 139 countries — and supporters have pledged to keep campaigning to make it universal. The treaty needed to be ratified by 60 nations to come into effect. Ten countries submitted their ratifications Thursday — Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Congo, Ireland, Jordan, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Slovakia — putting the total number at 66. All 10 nations will go down as No. 60 to spread the honor. Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, said “signs are good” that between 90 and 100 countries will have ratified the treaty by early next year. “The International Criminal Court is potentially the most important human rights institution created in 50 years. It will be the court where the Saddam Husseins, Pol Pots and Augusto Pinochets of the future are held to account,” Dicker said, referring to Iraq’s president, Cambodia’s late Khmer Rouge leader, and the former Chilean dictator. Kirsch said he believes that once the court shows it will act in “a very judicial and nonpolitical way,” there will be less opposition. “In my view, given the United States’ tradition of commitment to international justice, it is a matter of time before there is some form of cooperation developing between the United States and an institution of this importance,” he said. In the past 50 years, more than 86 million civilians died in some 250 conflicts around the world, and more than 170 million people were stripped of their rights, property and dignity, according to the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, which represents some 1,000 organizations and legal experts. “Most of these victims have been simply forgotten and few perpetrators have been brought to justice,” the coalition said. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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