Annan urges countries to sign international criminal court statute


JOHANNESBURG, Sept 1 (AFP) -Tue 01: United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday called on the United States and other countries that have failed to do so to sign the statute creating an international criminal court.

Speaking after receiving an honorary doctorate of law at the University of the Witwatersrand, Annan praised South Africa for being one of the first countries to sign the statute after its inception in Rome in July.

"I hope that the United States, and many other states, will follow South Africa's example soon."

The creation of the court was decided in Rome by a vote of 120 states in favor and seven against.

Those voting against the document creating the court included China, Libya, Israel, Qatar and the United States.

Annan said he hoped those countries which had signed the statute would soon ratify it "so that the court can assume its functions very early in the new century."

At least 60 countries must sign and ratify the statute before the court can be created.

Annan said the court is the future's best guarantee against further war and genocide.

"I remain convinced that an effective court, by deterring potential criminals, will give future generations their best hope of a world free from the scourges of aggression and genocide, which have made this century a hell on earth for so many millions of people," he said.

The United States has said it will "actively oppose" the creation of the court.

State Department spokesman James Rubin said in July: "We will reserve the right to actively oppose this treaty to protect our national interests.

"If the prospect of this court will interfere with our ability to operate internationally, we will not submit to this court."

Annan rejected arguments that the first permanent international criminal court would be an obstruction to peace or to reconciliation, or target Americans politically.

"Some people seem to imagine that this court will be composed of frivolous or malicious people, roaming the world in search of opportunities to undermine a peace process here, and prosecute a peacekeeper here.

"Nothing could be more improbable," he said.

Annan said the US has "an understandable and legitimate interest in ensuring that a court would not unfairly subject American citizens to politicised complaints".

But, he said, the careful screening of the court's judges and prosecutor, will serve as a guarantee against any irresponsible behaviour.

Annan, who received the doctorate to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, flew later Tuesday to Durban to attend the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.