International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Battle: It is important that we keep in focus the big picture of the purpose of the Bill. I take it not as criticism but as a challenge when the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) tells us not to get carried away on a tide of enthusiasm when setting up the ICC, but to make sure that we must set in place the right laws and procedures to get the court working properly. We cannot act haphazardly or leave matters to chance, hoping that underlying good will will ensure that everything works out all right. We must introduce the correct procedures to ensure that the right people go before the court. I agree completely about the importance of getting the wording of our commitment to the statute right.

We tend to lose sight of the fact that the Bill is not about picking up a bank robber, a criminal or a murderer wandering around Europe or elsewhere. In a sense, when I first saw the Bill, I thought that it was written the wrong way around, because it ensures that we discuss handing over convicted people before we discuss the crimes for which they are convicted. We must keep in mind the sorts of crime with which the statute deals: crimes against humanity, such as genocide and war crimes, carried out on an horrendous scale. The ICC is a megacourt to deal with mega-accusations against people. It would surprise me if a person who had been convicted by the court was wandering around and had not been not locked up. Incidentally, I accept entirely the hon. and learned Gentleman's correction on whether a person is an escapee or escaper.

We are dealing with a hypothetical case of a convicted war criminal who has been convicted of genocide or mass murder and who, after wandering around for a while, arrives in Britain and has to be handed over. There is a question about identity. I accept that names are sometimes got wrong— we are well aware that that has happened in the past. However, the clause is based on current extradition practice in identifying the person sought. Thanks to the lessons of history, we have a high judicial standard, and we need to ensure that that will be upheld.

The hon. and learned Gentleman invited me to say whether the warrants that we are discussing could be from individual countries such as Belarus. We are discussing only ICC warrants. In addition, I assure him that our comments go on the record, so it will be possible to take them further. If consultations with the court about potential misidentification are needed, we can raise them and make sure that they are taken seriously. We do not want the court to get off on the wrong foot. It would be horrendous if the wrong person were accused of genocide and handed over when the person who had committed that crime and been convicted was still wandering around. It is important to get it right, but the amendment is unnecessary.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham invited me to assure her that what she is seeking is implicit in the Bill. I think that we have strengthened reassurances, rather than weakened them.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister for generously responding to the very valid points that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough made. We have had a short but good debate and I am reassured that the Minister and the Government are taking into consideration the points that we made using the amendment as our vehicle to do so.

The Minister's response justifies our having raised the issue. We are dealing with people who have nowhere to go: having been convicted of megacrimes, they have nothing to lose and they are desperate. They are likely be surrounded by people who will stop at nothing and who might be willing to sacrifice an innocent individual to enable the perpetrator—the convicted criminal—to go free. We are potentially dealing with foreign nationals, with people who have no moral convictions of any sort and with people who have nothing to lose whatever they do, so it is important that we ensure that we use the correct and highest standard of proof when acting as directed by an outside agency.

The amendment was not ambitious. I am sad that the Government, even after reflection and after acknowledging our arguments, have not accepted it or offered some other means of including in the Bill a requirement for the highest possible burden of proof. I am, however, satisfied that the Government appreciate our concerns and that in any future interpretation of the legislation, the record of the Committee's proceedings can be consulted. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan: The Committee had a rest from the sound of my voice earlier in the week, so I hope that it will be forbearing now. When I discussed it with you, Mr. Cook, and with the Clerk, you graciously agreed that the clause 2 stand part debate would be the right one in which to raise two issues that are of particular concern to me. One is an all-embracing issue on which I want to tease out the Minister's thinking. The other is smaller, but clarification of it relates to the entire Bill. Although it is particularly apposite to clause 2 because it deals with a part of the statute of Rome to which the clause makes reference, clause 2 is the foundation stone of part II.

My first question is: what will happen to the sovereign right of individual nations to determine the outcome of their own internal conflicts when the Bill becomes law and countries sign up to the statute? That is important, because we heard last night that of the 80-odd conflicts that were recorded as taking place around the world the last time that statistics were drawn up, all but two or three were internal. That is the nature of today's disputes and wars.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow) indicated assent.

Mrs. Gillan: I see the hon. Lady nod.

The point is serious in terms of the court's action once a country has signed up to it. It seems to me that it will be able to overrule the prerogatives of certain nation states, and that causes me great concern. I shall draw on two examples, although we could use others and might be able to cite more in the future. One is the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa; the other our own reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.

There have been numerous transitions to democracy during the past few decades. We have seen many newly installed democratically elected Governments take over and face the terrible question of how to deal with the human rights violations committed by previous regimes, dictators, armies and juntas. Such Governments face an amazing legacy of political violence that includes some of the worst atrocities that human beings can perpetrate against each other: purges, massacres and individual cases of torture, death and destruction.

The setting up of the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa was, in my opinion, one of the most amazing acts of courage of any nation state in living memory. Nelson Mandela will be in London on Sunday and I am hoping to go to a celebration of African culture that he is also attending. I make no apology for putting in a little advert for what is going on at the moment, because it is important that our country appreciates the marvellous culture and heritage of South Africa, and continues to acknowledge the bravery involved in that country's peace process and its truth and reconciliation process.

Many countries do little to deal with the past. Sometimes, there is no desire at Government level even to confront what has happened. We have seen some Governments inquire into human rights violations and fail to publish the findings. It is, therefore, all the more important that when a country is prepared to confront its past we do not erect an impediment that might stop that process from taking place. We have witnessed some of those who have violated human rights in the past being prosecuted by the countries concerned, and I appreciate that the statute covers that eventuality, which is all well and good. However, the statute could prevent a truth and reconciliation process.

The truth commission and the sophisticated truth recovery process that started in South Africa attracted extensive national and international interest. The number of cases dealt with was extraordinary. It is arguable that a truth and reconciliation process is more capable of dealing with a large number of cases than a highly expensive and specialised ICC in The Hague. As a supplementary question to what happens to potential future truth and reconciliation processes, will the Minister say what the position would be on events happening in this country that might fall to the expense of the taxpayer? Issues of cost arise out of clause 2 that place financial burdens on British taxpayers of which they should be aware.

10.45 am

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa dealt with vast numbers of individuals who could, perhaps, not have been dealt with by an ICC. Other truth commissions have generally not resulted in the prosecution of individuals. I understand that, in some instances, such commissions have resulted in the names of individuals being handed over to the normal judicial process. That would fit with the statute, but what about individuals who are not handed over and prosecuted? Truth commissions do not appear to be precluded from carrying out prosecutions, but the TRC in South Africa was mandated to grant amnesty, and it granted it to a large number of people who had committed atrocious crimes.

The TRC has fulfilled the fundamentally important function of bringing into the public domain the acknowledgement of the truth. It has made people face up to what has happened in the past and enabled history to be acknowledged, not rewritten. For the most part, it gives a better and more reliable picture of past abuses and actions and is desirable for that reason. However, in a funny way, it represents an anti-democratic process. A truth commission is rarely subject to democratic accountability, but is championed by Government and citizenry and exists by popular demand, as was the case in South Africa.

It is desirable that a truth and reconciliation process is not closed or tucked away in a court, but has the distinctive feature that commission in South Africa had—that of proceeding in a blaze of media publicity. Openness to public participation and scrutiny is a good thing, as I am sure the Minister will agree. That enabled the process to reach a far wider audience in Africa and elsewhere. The values of that process were healthy to democracy. They highlighted the benefits of transparency and of public debate and participation—the media provided a service. I acknowledge that there were drawbacks to the process being conducted in a blaze of publicity, but some steps towards reconciliation, such as private meetings between victims and perpetrators, took place out of sight of the media, in a private setting. There are ways to overcome the drawbacks.

There was an opportunity for restorative justice to play a part in the process. That issue is raised by the Bill. What future has the process of restorative justice within the context of what the Bill is trying to achieve?

An obvious failing that became clear in the South African truth and reconciliation process was that the commission was unable to investigate thoroughly the numerous human rights violations that had been committed by South Africans in neighbouring countries. It could not demand testimony relating to those actions because it could not guarantee indemnity from prosecution in those countries. If a country has not ratified the statute of Rome, though it might have signed up to it, and wants to set up a truth and reconciliation process but lives next door to a country that has ratified the statute, its truth and reconciliation process could be inhibited by its being unable to guarantee that people in the neighbouring country, and therefore falling under its regime, would be immune from prosecution by the ICC. Even if a country wants to go through a TRC process before ratifying the treaty of Rome, its process might be inhibited by a neighbour that has entered the group of nations that has ratified. The Minister might say that that is unlikely, but it is possible. I want to explore the possibility and learn what the Minister thinks about the possible effect on non-ratifiers in an interim period because of the potential for removing the opportunity for a truth and reconciliation process to take place.

The process in South Africa was imperfect, but it was one of the best processes that we have seen for facing a problematic past and moving forward into the future with great hope. No matter where one stands, and what one thinks, one must admit that that TRC process has been successful.

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Prepared 26 April 2001