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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friends Lady Williams of Crosby and Lord Avebury cannot be here to say what I am now going to say from these Benches. It gives me enormous pleasure to be able to agree both with what has been said by the Minister and what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. I agree with everything they have said.
Perhaps I may begin by expressing gratitude to the Government for having made this Statement to both Houses. In a very crowded parliamentary timetable it seems to me to show a civilised sense of priorities that on this historic day both Houses of Parliament have been informed.
As the Minister said, this is an historic occasion, particularly opportune during the year of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 100 years after the International Red Cross first proposed that there should be an international criminal court. We had thought, after the Second World War and Nuremburg, that we would put behind us gross violations of human rights, crimes against humanity. But, as the Secretary-General of the United Nations reminded us:
I should like to pay tribute to the hard work done by an outstanding British negotiating team in Rome, including two remarkable members of the Government's legal service, the Foreign Office legal adviser,
I think that the statute is a fair and reasonable compromise and I agree with the Government as to why it is necessary to reach that compromise to obtain the widest possible consent among the countries of the world. It is regrettable that among the handful of countries that have not signed should be three great democracies: one of the oldest, the United States; the largest, India; and one of the smallest, Israel. It is particularly regrettable because none of those countries has anything to fear or to hide in relation to this jurisdiction.
The United States taught the rest of the world a great deal about the principles of due process and the rule of law. India has a great independent judicial system, as has Israel. Indeed, many Jews were among those who after the Second World War fought tirelessly for the creation of an international criminal court. I therefore very much echo the words of an editorial in today's Financial Times expressing the hope that the super-power of the United States--and I would add India and Israel--seeing itself as a guardian of the world's conscience should think again otherwise, in the case of the United States, it could jeopardise its claim to the high moral ground in international affairs.
Perhaps I may say that it was useful to have been able to obtain a copy of the statute on the Internet this morning. It is a fascinating document. I hope that the Government will ensure that hard copies are made available with an explanatory memorandum before there is full parliamentary scrutiny and debate.
I should like to ask one or two questions. The first is on the timetable for ratification. I gather that 60 states need to ratify before the statute can come into force. Will the Government do everything they can to ensure that there is no unreasonable delay in ratification either by us or by the rest of the world? Secondly, does the Minister agree that the role of national courts is of critical importance, as well as that of the International Criminal Court, in providing effective domestic remedies so that there is no hiding place for those who commit crimes against humanity or war crimes? Does the Minister think that the example set by Denmark in prosecuting alleged war criminals accused of crimes in former Yugoslavia is a model that might be emulated elsewhere?
Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the judges. Obviously the quality of the 15 judges is crucial. The statute uses fine language about the quality of the judges. They must be of high moral character, impartiality and integrity, with qualifications required for appointment to high judicial office in their own countries, and so forth. The statute says the right thing. Will the Government do whatever they reasonably can
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for their support for the Statement. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, said about my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell and the 9th June debate. I also thank both noble Lords for the warm words they spoke about the civil servants who have laboured hard in the past five weeks in Rome to secure an agreement, sometimes against tricky odds. The agreement was consistent with the negotiating remit that the Government had set them. It was a difficult remit which we are pleased to see they were able to meet in large measure.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for what he said about the negotiations on the internal conflicts and the independent prosecutor. We all feel that they were important points to have secured. The noble Lord mentioned the seven-year period--I think that he used the word "prohibition"--as something of a drawback. I would not describe it as a prohibition but more as an opt-out. States "may", in ratifying the statute, opt out of the court's jurisdiction for seven years, but that period is not renewable. After that, so long as they do not withdraw completely from the treaty, states parties will have to accept the court's jurisdiction with regard to all crimes included in the statute. That was an important point, because we did not want cherry-picking of the treaty.
I take the point that for some the seven-year opt-out will be a disappointment. It was a concession made during negotiations, because it was felt important to secure the maximum number of countries agreeing to the treaty. It was a different negotiation from the one which some countries had wanted, which was to be able to specify with which parts of the treaty they would comply and with which parts they would not comply. Her Majesty's Government felt that that compromise was worth making.
The noble Lord also spoke about the drawbacks in the way in which some war crimes have been dealt with as regards the former Yugoslavia. Her Majesty's Government do not believe that the ICTY has been a failure just because it cannot get hold of some of those whom we would like to see prosecuted. We are pleased with the progress that the tribunal is making, because since last summer a steady stream of indictees has been transferred to the tribunal. One contested verdict has already been handed down; seven indictees are currently being tried; and 13 more are awaiting trial. Trials are proceeding more rapidly now that the UK-funded courtroom is in operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, raised a number of interesting and important points and said some nice things about our negotiators in Rome. I shall try to cover the points that he made. Of course we are concerned about the fact that the US and other important countries were not able to support the treaty. As I explained in the Statement, the US is anxious about the vulnerability of its servicemen. The UK has worked hard with the US
We hope that the US will realise that there are comprehensive and sufficient safeguards. We in the UK will work hard to try to persuade the US to sign up to the agreement. There are also other countries--we are sorry that India and Israel are among them--which were unable to support the final package. Of course their support is highly desirable. We shall continue to urge them not to stand in the way of the rest of the world going forward on this issue. We hope that when they see the way that the international court operates many of their fears will be allayed.
The noble Lord asked also about the quality of judges. The judges are an important issue. It is one of the points upon which the leader of our delegation, Sir Franklin Berman, concentrated. He chaired the working group on that issue. We believe that we ensured a useful agreement on that point. At least half of the judges will have criminal trial experience. That is an important point. There are also provisions to ensure that only judges of the highest calibre are nominated for election. The elections must take place on merit. We hope that some good women judges may be among those whose merits are recognised.
I shall say a few words about the court being less effective than it might be because of the countries that have not signed up to the treaty. The court will be able to act if the state in which the alleged crime was committed or the state of the accused's nationality is a party to the agreement. That is an important factor: both points are important here. Some states wanted the court to have automatic jurisdiction over crimes taking place anywhere in the world, but there is a problem of legal principle in creating a court with jurisdiction over states which have not signed up to its jurisdiction. Nevertheless, as I have said, we hope that we shall persuade those states that felt unable to sign up at the moment that it is in their best interests to do so. We shall go forward on that basis. I thank both noble Lords for the warm support that they gave the Statement.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will my noble friend accept on behalf of the Government and the negotiating team my congratulations on the positive role that they have taken and on augmenting the respect that they have built up over the past 18 months among the NGO community? Will she get a message to the US Government that not only has it cast a shadow over a significant milestone in human affairs, but it has forfeited the respect in which it was previously held by the NGO community? Will she tell the US Government that those of us in this country who have, for a long time, regarded ourselves as friends of the US, find it
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