ICC Supporters Rally to its Defence

The birth of the International Criminal Court is greeted with hostility from the US as it prepares to invade Iraq. Report from The Hague for The Institute for War and Peace Reporting in March 2003 (incorrect date stamp on IWPR website).

ICC Supporters Rally to its Defence

Critics of America’s opposition to the new international court make their point on Scheveningen beach.

By Neil Arun in The Hague

On the morning that international dignitaries descended upon The Hague for the inauguration of the International Criminal Court, ICC, the nearby beach at Scheveningen was being readied for a military invasion. Amid driving rain, figures in pink camouflage uniforms took up positions behind a row of sandbags facing out to the sea.

“This is not a joke,” said Ron de Haan, the spokesman for Dutch NGO Hogerhand, which erected the beach defences for the March 11 demo, staged in protest against legislation passed by the United States, which allows it to use all necessary and appropriate means to free any of its citizens being held by the ICC.

In other words, the American Servicemembers Protection Act, scathingly referred to by some as The Hague Invasion Act, gives the president the right to send US forces to The Hague, should it attempt to bring an American to trial.

Supporters of the international court believe the US aversion to seeing its soldiers face trial abroad is misguided and will damage the authority of the fledgling institution. They hope diplomatic and political pressure can be exerted on Washington to bring about a change of heart towards the ICC.

The climax of the ceremony on Scheveningen was a speech by Benjamin Ferencz, a US Second World War veteran who also worked as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, when the judicial precedent for punishing crimes against humanity was established.

Looking out on to the grim North Sea, Ferencz recalled how over 60 years ago he and thousands of other US troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to help rid Europe of an evil tyranny.

The tough-talking New Yorker went on to highlight his country’s subsequent support for humanitarian law and dismissed its fears that American servicemen might fall victim to the ICC.

“There has not been a prosecutor in history whose actions will be watched more closely than this one, who will have 89 nations (who’ve signed up to the ICC) looking over his shoulder,” he told reporters, urging his country to sign up to the court. “No one – not even the US – has the sovereign right to commit genocide.”

Washington fears that the ICC could be used by other nations to subject US soldiers to malicious prosecution.

As a consequence, America has not ratified the Rome agreement that would allow its citizens to be tried at the new court, and is also currently seeking immunity agreements with individual states, promising that they will not attempt to bring charges against US citizens.

Experts say that without the full backing of the sole remaining superpower in the world, the ICC will struggle to bring its influence to bear upon other states.

Ron de Haan felt the US ought to fully sign up to the ICC because failure to do so would betray the 89 signatories, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, which had placed their trust in the new court.

The Dutch web designer with a passion for international justice felt the most important thing about the protest was the way it had drawn support from all corners of the globe – people from all the ICC’s member countries had sent in photos of themselves by e-mail, which were then placed on cardboard cut-outs manning the sandbags on Scheveningen beach.

The protest was organised – via the internet – by a loose network of individuals, most of whom didn’t even know each other, had worked on the sandbags as and when they found the time.

De Haan said the protesters bore many hallmarks of a citizens’ army – from the loose, cell-like structure that had drawn them together to their uniform pink camouflage outfits – but he assured IWPR that no one there was considering the leap from activism to militarism. “We don’t see ourselves that way,” he said.

Neil Arun is an IWPR contributor.

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