Clinton signs treaty to bring U.S. 
under jurisdiction of global criminal court

Updated 4:39 PM ET December 31, 2000
By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Racing against a deadline, President Clinton announced on Sunday that the United States would sign a treaty establishing the first permanent global criminal court, intended to try people accused of the world's worst atrocities.

"In taking this action, we join more than 130 other countries that have signed by the Dec. 31, 2000, deadline established in the treaty," Clinton said in a statement. "We do so to reaffirm our strong support for international accountability and for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity."

In a move likely to be sharply opposed by Republican conservatives but applauded by rights groups as well as many Democrats, Clinton said the court would make a "profound contribution" to deterring human rights abuses around the world.

The International Criminal Court, based on the principles of the Nazi war crime trials at the end of the Second World War, would try individuals accused of mass murders, war crimes and other gross human rights violations. It would be set up in the Netherlands.


"In signing, however, we are not abandoning our concerns about significant flaws in the treaty," Clinton noted. "In particular, we are concerned that when the court comes into existence, it will not only exercise authority over personnel of states that have ratified the treaty but also claim jurisdiction over personnel of states that have not.

"With signature, however, we will be in a position to influence the evolution of the court. Without signature, we will not."

Officials said David Scheffer, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, would sign the treaty for the United States.

Signing expresses a country's political support for the court and its intention to ratify the treaty eventually through its national legislature.

But the tribunal does not come into force until 60 countries have ratified the treaty. So far, 27 nations have done so.

At the United Nations, officials said on Sunday that Israel had decided to sign the treaty too. A split Israeli Cabinet had said earlier it would not sign but might reconsider if the United States agreed to do so.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Yehuda Lancry was expected to come to the U.N. office and sign the document later on Sunday afternoon, the officials said.


Clinton in the past had spoken forcefully in favor of the court. But faced with opposition from the Pentagon and Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the administration backed down at a June 1998 meeting on the treaty in Rome.

At issue is whether the court would be used capriciously against U.S. interests and put overseas military personnel at risk. But advocates of the court argue that the right of nations to conduct their own trials of their military personnel accused of crimes abroad takes precedent.

In the last few weeks, editorials in a number of U.S. newspapers have urged Clinton to sign the treaty. The papers include the New York Times, the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Editorials opposing the court ran in the Washington Times and the Indianapolis Star.

Clinton said he still had some concerns regarding the workings of the court and said court jurisdiction over U.S. nationals should come only with U.S. ratification of the treaty.

"Given these concerns, I will not, and do not recommend that my successor, submit the treaty to the Senate for advice and consent until our jurisdictional fundamental concerns are satisfied," said Clinton, who yields his office on Jan. 20 to Republican President-elect George W. Bush.

After Sunday, a nation can only ratify but no longer sign the treaty, which means losing influence during negotiations among countries on the court's procedures.

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