Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Douglas Alexander (Paisley, South): Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the challenge of ratification extends beyond this country, as only fourother countries plan to ratify within their coming parliamentary years?

Mr. Garnier: I would not disagree with that for a moment. I repeat my mantra: the sooner we do it, the sooner others may do it as well.

I, too, congratulate the Minister on his new position. It is always a joy to see one's parliamentary neighbours getting on in the world. I sincerely hope, in the nicest possible way, that his new job in the Foreign Office keeps him a long way from Leicester and Leicestershire for most of the parliamentary year. No doubt he will receive the typical Leicester welcome when he gets back to his constituency from time to time.

Niceties apart, I urge the Government to introduce legislation to allow us to ratify the statute in order to realise their intention that we should be among the first 60 states to do so, especially as it is more than a year since the Foreign Secretary said that ratification would not be a swift or fast-track process and that the legislation would be complex. All legislation has the capacity to be complex and I wish that we could get on with it more speedily.

The Minister will be aware of the consensus that it is most important that the major states, and especially the permanent members of the Security Council, show their support for the court. Will he comment on the most effective means by which we can put pressure on the United States to participate? There must be some easy way of assuaging its fears about malicious prosecution of its service personnel.

Does the Minister agree that, given that 60 states have to ratify before the court can be set up and that there has been so little progress so far, the likely timetable for establishment is about 50 years? I will be long dead by then, and I--and, I hope, the Minister--would like to be alive when the court is established. I look forward to an encouraging response.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that this debate is very short and that short speeches would be appreciated. That will allow more Members to speak.

10.10 am

Mr. Tony Colman (Putney): I start by declaring an interest, in that I am a member of the drafting committee of Charter 99, the charter for global democracy that was launched on United Nations day, last Sunday.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) on obtaining this debate, which is extremely fortuitous in reminding Ministers of the

27 Oct 1999 : Column 937

importance of the ratification of the statute in this coming Session. My hon. Friend said that France is due to ratify the statute this week, and I understand that Germany will ratify it before the end of the year. I heard this morning that, during the past few days, President Clinton has made a positive speech about ratification. I urge all hon. Members with influence in Congress to use it, perhaps through the British-American parliamentary group seeking a meeting with Trent Lott, so that he can take the matter forward on the Republican side in the United States.

My hon. Friend mentioned the antecedents of the work in Rome last year. I wish to refer also to the Commission on Global Governance, which was set up by Willy Brandt and was co-chaired by the ex-Commonwealth Secretary- General Sonny Ramphal. It met between 1992 and 1995 and had wide membership, including, from this country, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), the noble Lord Judd and Brian Urquhart.

"Our Global Neighbourhood" was published in 1995 and contained strong recommendations that supported the International Criminal Court. This September, Patsy Robertson--who is in charge of taking forward the work of the commission--met with Titus Alexander of the Westminster UNA, Peter Luff of the Royal Commonwealth Society and others, including Anthony Barnett, of Charter 88, to take forward the agenda of ratification of the statute.

Last Sunday--UN day--saw the launch of Charter 99. I urge all hon. Members who have not obtained copies nor signed the document to support it. It is an extremely important initiative, and one of the 12 points aimed at taking the agenda forward is the ratification of the statute.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) suggested other areas of influence. The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting takes places in about four weeks' time in Durban. I hope that the Minister will be able to support the idea that, within the discussion of the review of the Harare declaration--which concerns crimes against humanity--ratification of the statute could be taken forward. The work done by our parliamentary counsel and in the preparatory committee could be shared with our Commonwealth partners.

I am proud of the Government's ethical foreign policy, and I believe strongly that ratification in the coming Session is a key part of that policy. I suggest that the millennium United Nations General Assembly next September would be a good point to ensure ratification, so that we can announce to the people of the world that this country has ratified early and has led the way in ensuring that the International Criminal Court can come into existence for the year 2000.

10.14 am

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) for her initiative in proposing this important debate. She will not like everything I say, but not everyone always does.

I had not expected to be a witness to war crimes and genocide in my time and in my continent. I was, and that left a deep impression on me. From that, I came to the conclusion that there surely had to be just such a jurisdiction and mechanism as we are discussing here.

I know the nature of modern warfare, which is to involve and to target civilians; it is to breach the Geneva conventions almost every day. I know that the leaders of

27 Oct 1999 : Column 938

people, armies and paramilitaries have become aware of this final sanction which might be used against them. I know that, in some cases, this has moderated their behaviour.

However, if the new court is to continue on the lines of the existing court at The Hague, I have grave doubts about it. That is from personal experience. I was the only journalist who agreed to testify to the court in the case of Blaskic. Most of the suspects who came before that court dealing with the former Yugoslavia were small fry, but Blaskic was not. He was the commander of the Bosnian Croat forces in the Lasva valley in central Bosnia in the bitter side war between Muslims and Croats, which started in April 1993 and continued to the ceasefire in February 1994.

Blaskic was arrested in the spring of 1996 and brought to The Hague. I believe that he has been subject to certain injustices which give me grave misgivings about the court that is now being proposed.He was held for more than a year before the trial began in June 1997. That trial went on until the end of July 1999--more than 25 months. As we stand here in this Chamber now, there still has been no decision from the judges. That means that, without a conviction, 10 per cent. of that young man's life has been spent in jail. That has to be unjust.

The procedures of the court are extremely dilatory. There were 158 witnesses and 3,000 pages of evidence, and the court sat for three days a week. The judges came in late on Monday and went early on Thursday. I calculated that Blaskic must have spent six days of his life in jail because of the judge's tea breaks. These courts are supposed to bear in mind the facts of the case, and not the comfort and convenience of the judges. If we are to set up a new system, it has to be run on different lines.

I am not sure that I am happy with the idea of a prosecutors court, which would be under political pressure to convict. If five cases come before that court in The Hague, and there are five acquittals, pressure will grow on the court. People will ask, "What is wrong? Why are you not convicting?" It may be because there has been insufficient evidence in those five cases. That is very important.

There is a risk when an individual--usually quite a prominent individual who represents a people--is arrested. He then develops a kind of iconic significance and is held responsible for the actions of some individuals in that group to which he belongs. The English language has a word for that--it is "scapegoat".

By all means, let us have a system of international justice in which there is no refuge for the guilty--however, let us above all have a system in which there is no injustice for the innocent.

10.17 am

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): I join with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) on securing this debate and on generating an opportunity to contribute to this important subject. I congratulate her also on so clearly and succinctly setting out the history and development of the International Criminal Court and on identifying the key issues in the debate.

I congratulate the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), on his promotion, and I wish him well.

27 Oct 1999 : Column 939

It is not possible to overestimate the significance of the adoption in Rome in July 1998 of the statutes of the permanent International Criminal Court. Consequent on that historic decision, for the first time a truly independent international court with an independent prosecutor and with the power to try crimes committed in internal conflicts will have jurisdiction to try those charged with war crimes, acts of genocide and crimes against humanity, and--when the issues of definition are resolved--acts of aggression.

At the ceremony celebrating the adoption in Rome in July of the statute of the International Criminal Court, Kofi Annan said:

The following day, in a statement to the House, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said:

    "It has been a paradox of our century that those who murder one person are more likely to be brought to justice than those who plot genocide against millions. The International Criminal Court will put on notice the Pol Pots and Saddam Husseins of the future that they may be held to account personally for their crimes against humanity. It will also offer justice to the victims who have no means at present of bringing their suffering before any court."--[Official Report, 20 July 1998; Vol. 316, c. 803.]

However, the political success of the adoption of the statute of the court is only a partial victory, as has already been pointed out. The permanent court will not be established until at least 60 states have ratified the Rome statute. So that as many states as possible will do so by the end of 2000, and so that the court may commence its activities no later than that date, it is necessary to mobilise an international movement towards ratification. The United Kingdom, which played a leading role in brokering a consensus at Rome, must now play a leading role in achieving the necessary number of ratifying states.

Delay is unthinkable. It would deprive the international community of a fundamental instrument in the defence of human rights by allowing the prosecution of those responsible for the most atrocious crimes, and it would have a number of other negative repercussions. While great progress has been made in the past 20 years to foster an effective system of international criminal justice, in particular through the creation of the two international criminal tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, it cannot be emphasised enough that that effort must be constantly consolidated.

Consolidation is imperative when one considers how many acts of genocide and violations of human rights go unpunished. In the past 50 years, there have been countless instances of crimes against humanity, including war crimes, for which no individual has been held accountable. Cambodia, Mozambique, El Salvador and Liberia have seen horrifying loss of civilian life, including many millions of unarmed women and children. In Algeria and the Great Lakes area of Africa, massacres of civilians continue and, over the past year, one need only contemplate the actions of war criminals in Kosovo and

27 Oct 1999 : Column 940

East Timor to see that respect for international law desperately needs reinforcement. We cannot hope to generate that respect for international law unless we establish the principle of individual criminal accountability for all who commit such acts and unless we tackle impunity.

Without justice, many countries have no hope of lasting peace. To neglect or delay ratification of the International Criminal Court would send a negative message to the international community, at precisely the time that we should reinforce the progress made so far. Furthermore, the longer it takes the court to begin its work, the more chance its opponents have to mount a negative campaign against it. Therefore, we must build on the enthusiasm and momentum generated in Rome before it is dissipated. To do that, it is essential that countries in favour of the court, such as the United Kingdom, proceed with ratification immediately.

In the unlikely event that my hon. Friend the Minister has not had his mind concentrated on the important issues raised by this debate, I have several questions for him. Can he provide any information on the progress of ratification in the United Kingdom? Can he tell us in broad terms when the Bill for ratification will be voted on in this Parliament? I accept that the process of ratification is complicated, but can he give us some indication of what adaptation of the criminal law of the United Kingdom will be necessary to facilitate that ratification? In order to speed up the process, will he consider separating the ratification procedure from the adaptation of our legislation? Given that we have two distinct criminal law systems in these islands, can my hon. Friend tell the House what discussions he has had with the Minister for Justice of the Scottish Executive about the adaptation of Scots law in anticipation of ratification?

Next Section

IndexHome Page