Danish Judge Frederik Harhoff Reveals a Dangerous Trend in the ICC

Story Transcript

SHIR HEVER, TRNN PRODUCER: A confidential letter which was exposed by the Danish newspaper BT reveals that political influence might be skewing the decisions of the International Court in the Hague, the ICC.

After the atrocities of the Second World War, the concept of international law has been promoted in the United Nations in order to prevent a recurrence of such crimes against humanity.

But the various treaties and conventions approved to protect the rights of all human beings wherever they may be depended on each government to uphold and respect. The measures available for the international community to enforce the respect of human rights remained weak and few.

The establishment of the International Court of Justice (the ICC) in the Hague in 2002 was based on the Rome Statute, the treaty from 1998, which has so far been adopted by 122 states around the world.

The court was designed to establish the means to enforce the existing UN resolutions against genocide, against crimes against humanity, and against war crimes.

Individuals could be extradited to the ICC, to stand trial in such cases where their own states fail to try them for their crimes. If the crimes were committed within the territory of a state which signed the Rome Statute, the court’s jurisdiction would apply and the court could try and sentence the suspects.

JOAN E. DONOGHUE, U.S. JUDGE, INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE: Actually, it was the United States, along with the British, who were strong advocates for the idea of a world court originally, around the turn of the 20th century. And that said, there’s always been a little bit of a love-hate relationship, in the sense that within the U.S. there have been a range of views about the idea of a world court. Was it a good thing? Would it help bring about peace? Or would it be a body that infringed on U.S. sovereignty? And those themes have persisted since the beginning, I think.

HEVER: Indeed, the idea that crimes committed in foreign states could be tried by the ICC is especially threatening to countries which regularly send their forces across the border on violent missions, most notably the United States and Israel.

It is no coincidence that the United States and Israel exerted tremendous pressure on the Palestinian government not to sign the Rome Statute, even after Palestine was recognized as a state in the UN General Assembly. If the Palestinians sign the statute, every Israeli soldier stationed in the Occupied Palestinian Territory would be at risk of extradition to the ICC.

The ICC was criticized, that it had only tried suspects from Africa in its first nine years of existence. The court argues that it has been invited by African countries to assist in applying international law in Africa, but it remains a blatant fact that the court did not try international law offenders from Western states.

MARGARET KIMBERLEY, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Yes, it is true that it’s Africans and a few token Serbs thrown in. The big fish, the United States and the NATO nations, are free to violate international law, to violate human rights with complete impunity. Since the ICC was founded, the United States invaded Iraq. You could call that a genocide. To this day, there are children in the city of Fallujah being born with grotesque deformities as a result of some of the weapons being used there, depleted uranium and so on. Israel attacked Gaza, targeted a civilian population, practised collective punishment of a civilian population in violation of all the norms of international law and the Geneva Conventions. And the outgoing prosecutor, Mr. Moreno Ocampo, said that Palestine had no standing in the ICC. So it seems as though these rules apply only to weak nations.

HEVER: The only non-Africans indicted by the courts were Serbians suspected of involvement in war crimes during the war in Yuguslavia. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic died in custody before he could be tried. On May 30, the ICC acquitted Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic of responsibility to war crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia between 1992 and 1995.

Danish Judge Frederik Harhoff wrote a confidential letter to 56 people in which he claimed that the U.S. judge presiding over the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Theodor Meron, applied intense pressure on the other judges on the panel to acquit the accused Serbian officers. He wrote in his letter:

“You would think that the military establishment in leading states (such as U.S.A. and Israel) felt that the courts in practice were getting too close to the military commanders’ responsibilities. One hoped that the commanders would not be held responsible unless they had actively encouraged their subordinate forces to commit crimes. In other words: The court was heading too far in the direction of commanding officers being held responsible for every crime their subordinates committed. Thus their intention to commit crime had to be specifically proven.”

Israeli officials are indeed concerned that Israeli soldiers or officers would find themselves prosecuted by the ICC. The Israeli government is aware that its actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory violates international law, and that the fear of an international arrest warrant could deter Israeli soldiers from taking part in activities in the occupied territory.

An interesting case which might put Israeli officials on the defendant’s bench after all is the attack on the Freedom Flotilla in May 2010, especially on the ship the Mavi Marmara. The ship was attacked in international waters by Israeli soldiers as it attempted to reach the Gaza Strip carrying humanitarian supplies, and nine Turkish passengers were killed. Turkey did not sign the Rome Statute and therefore cannot take Israel to court. However, Comoros, a very small country in Africa which signed the Rome Statute in 2006, filed a complaint on May 14, as the ship the Mavi Marmara was registered in the Comoros. Comoros demands that an investigation will proceed for the purpose of charging responsible Israeli individuals with violating international law.

This is Shir Hever for The Real News.

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