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Orders of the Day

International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

5.22 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

At the outset, I remind the House that the Bill has attracted wide support and interest around the country. Non-governmental organisations from Amnesty International to the Red Cross and Save the Children have all supported it. Some of those organisations will have tuned in at 3.45 pm in order to follow the proceedings of the House. I have to say that they will have viewed with incomprehension the proceedings they have watched for the past hour and a half, which have correspondingly reduced the time available to debate this historic step on international justice.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Rubbish.

Mr. Cook: If the right hon. Gentleman wants to continue to decry the views of those organisations, I warn him that, from what I know of Bromley, it is precisely the place where many members of Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Save the Children live. I hope that those members saw the gesture that he made as he dismissed his constituents' views.

There could be no more appropriate week in which to consider the Bill on International Criminal Court ratification. Only three days ago, ex-President Milosevic was arrested. He is today in prison--a fate far better than that which befell the many thousands of victims of his wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

There could be no clearer case for the need to achieve international justice than that of Milosevic. We have all seen the harrowing photographs of his victims: the starved prisoners of the concentration camps in Bosnia; the families burnt when their homes were fire-bombed in waves of ethnic cleansing; the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars fleeing terror; and the corpses of the men of an entire village, whom I saw where they had fallen herded together in a farm outbuilding to be massacred by paramilitaries.

I warmly echo the statement by President Kostunica that Milosevic's arrest proves that no one is above the law. Ex-President Milosevic has been arrested for his crimes against the Serb people. I believe that it will be valuable for the Serb people to learn the scale on which Milosevic looted their country; that he made himself rich while he made them poor; and that he rigged their elections and abused the power that came with the false results.

Milosevic was not a great nationalist, but a great enemy of the Serb people. I therefore support Milosevic being charged and tried for his crimes in Serbia, but that can be no substitute for a trial of Milosevic for his atrocities against the other peoples of Yugoslavia. As soon as Milosevic has submitted to legal process for his crimes in Serbia, he must be surrendered to the tribunal in The Hague to face justice for his crimes against Bosniacs and

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Kosovars. I urge the Government of Serbia to make that day more certain by serving Milosevic with the indictment drawn up by the war crimes tribunal.

What makes the case of Milosevic unusual is the fact that there is an international tribunal to pursue justice throughout the former Yugoslavia. Apart from Rwanda, no other part of the globe has an international mechanism to call dictators to account.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be entirely wrong to see proceedings against Mr. Milosevic in Serbia on the basis of allegations of corruption and fraud as in any way a substitute for his appearance in The Hague on the basis of indictments consisting of allegations against him in respect of crimes against humanity? It should not be thought, should it, that an appearance in Serbia will somehow constitute a tholing of his assize?

Mr. Cook: I entirely agree. I have said that on a number of occasions over the past three days. I think that what is happening now can serve as a useful step along the road, ensuring that more people in Serbia understand the importance of handing Milosevic over for trial in The Hague. It can, however, be only one step along a road whose end must be in The Hague, where Milosevic must stand trial for his wider atrocities.

As I was saying, it is only in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda that such mechanisms are available. There is no institution to bring to justice the Idi Amins or the Saddam Husseins, and there is nowhere for the victims of their crimes to seek redress before the law. That is the case for a standing international criminal court.

Both international criminal tribunals are providing a valuable remedy for crimes against humanity, but months if not years were lost in devising the structure of those tribunals and drawing up the rules of procedure. That is the case for a permanent centre of legal expertise and agreed procedures.

I began by referring to the wide support for the Bill throughout the British community of non-governmental organisations. There is also support from the legal community that is as near to being universal as is possible among lawyers. Even the Opposition have hitherto expressed enthusiastic support for the establishment of an international criminal court. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who speaks from the Front Bench most frequently on the issue, is on record as saying:

The Opposition now have an opportunity to prove how helpful they wish to be.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): As the Foreign Secretary knows, I represent Aldershot, which is the home of the British Army. Perhaps he can tell us what support there is for the Bill among senior service men, and what reservations any of them may have entered, privately or otherwise.

Mr. Cook: The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham has been helpful by asking my right hon. Friend

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the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received from the armed forces. He answered, on 16 March, "None." I refer the hon. Gentleman to that answer, which continues:

I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary, but can he tell us what reservations the British Government intend to enter, as, for example, the French Government have?

Mr. Cook: I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is no provision in the statute for reservations. The French Government made a declaration; we have not yet resolved the question of whether we would wish to make one, but such a declaration would of course have no legal effect.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Cook: I will, but then, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I must make progress.

Mr. Brazier: Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that, under the treaty as it now stands, if the prosecutor, who appears to be answerable to no one and who is appointed for a fixed nine-year term, decides that a member of this country's armed forces has not been sufficiently or satisfactorily investigated by our own criminal justice system, military and civilian, that prosecutor can decide to pursue a case against that member of the British armed forces?

Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his understanding of the statute on that matter. The prosecutor can launch such a prosecution only if he or she can sustain a case that the case was dropped in order to conceal or to protect someone against whom there was a bona fide case. However, it would not be the decision only of the prosecutor. The British delegation to the Rome negotiations had written into the statute the provision that the prosecutor can launch an investigation--let alone a prosecution--only with the approval of the pre-trial chamber of judges.

Indeed, when we reported that outcome of the Rome conference in 1998, the Conservative spokesman in the other place, Lord Kingsland, described the pre-trial chamber as

which will

I hope that that will be of comfort to members of the same party as Lord Kingsland.

It requires 60 countries to ratify the Rome statute before the International Criminal Court comes into existence. The passage of the Bill will put Britain in the first 60. That is important not just because we will have helped to

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bring the court into existence, but because those that have ratified are the only countries with a say in setting up its procedure and appointments. As a country that had ratified the statute, Britain could nominate candidates, vote in the elections of the prosecutor and judges and have a say in the adoption of the procedural rules.

Britain has a long tradition as an architect of legal innovations. The most recent example was the Lockerbie trial, where we created legal history by mounting a trial under Scottish Law in a third country. Britain has much to contribute to ensuring that the International Criminal Court gets off to the best and most sound start, but it is plainly in our own national interest to be there when the crucial decisions are taken; for our own judges to be eligible for election to the bench; and for us to have a say in who that prosecutor will be.

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