International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Battle: It is fair to say that we have had a full and wide-ranging debate. I do not resent that in any way. Further to the intervention of the hon. Member for Reigate, the difficulty with considering Bills in Standing Committee is that, often, we want to debate matters that should really be debated later, and we have to bring some contextual matters forward and debate them earlier. I do not resent that, because we have had a full debate that has enabled us to tease out the real issues and the serious problems. The point raised by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham is fair, and I will come to it in a moment.

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We must always remember that the purpose of the ICC is not to sort out the past but to put down the marker for the future. That makes it different from truth and reconciliation commissions. I do not want to enter into a debate on truth and reconciliation now, but I should say that there was much that was excellent in the hon. Lady's speech on the subject of truth and reconciliation commissions. There were parts that I disagreed with, but I hope that the fact that she raised the topic in the way that she did has resonance outside the Committee. I would prefer to have a full debate on those matters on the Floor of the House or elsewhere at some point in the future—there may be an opportunity when we are under less pressure.

The work of truth and reconciliation commissions is important. The work on memory and reconciliation being done in Northern Ireland, together what is going on in Chile, Guatemala, Cambodia and South Africa, can contribute massively to amassing experience on which we can build, so I thank the hon. Lady for raising that topic. However, the ICC will not prevent or block future truth and reconciliation commissions. There may be a further debate on the matter when we reach new clause 2, which raises themes that could perhaps be teased out in more detail, but let us look briefly at the example of Sierra Leone. There, a special court that will work alongside the truth and reconciliation commission has been created with international support. The work of the two bodies will be complementary and they will not undermine each other in any way. You guided us away from discussing countries' internal matters, Mr. Cook. That subject, too, could be addressed in connection with new clause 2.

Tribunals are different from the ICC: the ICC is a different animal, a different institution, a different organisation. Tribunals are an international obligation imposed by the United Nations Security Council. They are not directly complementary to the ICC—they have primary jurisdiction. We should bear that in mind. It is important to note that the ICC will deal only with future crimes; therefore, Governments ratifying the statute and their nationals will be fully aware of the possibility of prosecution by the ICC if they commit certain offences. I was asked whether there was any provision in the statute for flexibility. There is. I hope that the very existence of the ICC will deter people from committing war crimes and crimes of genocide. People will know that the court exists, so they will not undertake such activities.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): May I bring us back to some sort of reality and talk about timing? When does the Minister think that the ICC will be up and running? We will be perhaps the 30th country to ratify the treaty, which means that 30 more will have to ratify it, because the court cannot start to operate until 60 have ratified the treaty; and after the 60th country has ratified, at least a year will be needed to get the court up and running. There may well be many administrative and other details to be worked out, for example, the rules of procedure relating to the mechanics of the courts. Am I completely out of the time frame when I say that the beginnings of the court may not emerge for a decade, or are we in fact talking about something that may happen next year?

Mr. Battle: I not sure in what way that is relevant to clause stand part.

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is out of the time frame, because other countries are currently debating the treaty preparatory to ratifying it. We may find that we are not the 30th country to ratify; we could be the 40th, because there are at least 10 others lining up to do so. The establishment of the court could move faster than we envisage, rather than slower. I hope that it does. I am not concerned about that—I am simply trying to get support for the idea.

Mr. Blunt: Just before the intervention by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, the Minister said that he hoped that the existence of the ICC would prevent crimes from taking place, because it would be up and running and people would be subject to its jurisdiction. I agree that that might be so, but will he elaborate, either now or in the debate on new clause 2, on the consequences that that will have for truth and reconciliation commissions? Will he also explain about the flexibility not to investigate that he implied the ICC had? Can he relate that to the example of a victim who is determined to seek justice and therefore to take a case to the ICC?

Mr. Battle: The crimes that the ICC will prosecute are those for which amnesties are rarely likely to be appropriate. We should start from that premise and remember that the clause deals with convicted criminals. We must keep the process in perspective. The ICC prosecutor has discretion not to institute a prosecution in the interests of justice. That might be appropriate where a fair and democratically supported amnesty has been proclaimed.

The fact that the ICC will deal only with future crimes means that the Governments ratifying the statute—those include many of the Governments that have truth and reconciliation commissions, such as South Africa, so they are on side in this matter—are fully aware of the possibility of prosecution. The key point is that the nationals of those countries know that it is possible that they will be prosecuted if they commit those crimes—they could be ``got'' by the ICC. That will act as a deterrent.

Mrs. Gillan: If I have understood the Minister—please correct me if I am wrong—he just said that crimes that would be considered within the truth and reconciliation process are not be the sort of crimes for which an amnesty would be given. Earlier, I mentioned 15 TRCs of which I had become aware having read the Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation report to see what crimes were covered. In Argentina, for example, there were 8,960 disappeared but an unspecified number of victims of torture or prolonged detention. In other cases, such as Chad, there were victims of torture and arbitrary detention as well as disappeared. Those crimes would be prosecutable under the ICC yet they are crimes for which individuals received an amnesty, so I am not sure that I follow the Minister's argument. Is he saying that these processes are not affected and could carry on despite the ratification of the ICC statute?

Mr. Blunt: I draw the Minister's attention to Northern Ireland and to article 7 of the Rome statute, ``Crimes against humanity''. We have let out of prison early people who are guilty of murder under article 7.1(a) and people who are guilty under article 7.1(k) of

    ``Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.''—

for example, all those guilty of kneecapping in Northern Ireland. It would be nice to believe that kneecapping was going to end the moment we ratified and the ICC came into action, but I fear that that will not happen.

Mr. Battle: I do not understand the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument. The reasons why people have been released early in Northern Ireland are a separate issue. They would not have been incarcerated in the first place if they had not been through the process and been tried and convicted. That is not what we are talking about.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Battle: No, I shall try to answer some of the points that have been made first. Northern Ireland is not relevant. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned South Africa, Chile, Argentina and Sierra Leone. It is important to note that many of the countries that have wrestled with crimes of the past are among the strongest supporters of the ICC.

Clause 2 sets out the procedure to be followed when a request is received from the ICC for

    ``the arrest and surrender of a person alleged to have committed an ICC crime,''

or for that of someone who has already been convicted by the ICC. That is the purpose of the clause. The nature of the crimes is a subject that comes later in the Bill. Let us get to that part of the Bill, rather than try to bring that debate forward—if you agree that that is a fair way to proceed, Mr. Cook.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan: On a point of order, Mr. Cook. I rose to my feet before the Question was put to ask the Minister to reply to the specific point to which you so kindly allowed me to return when I could not find my papers. The Minister has completely ignored my question, which is rather unfortunate in an otherwise good-natured discussion. Can you assist me as to when the Minister may be able to give me a response?

Mr. Battle: Further to that point of order, I shall write to the hon. Lady. I was distracted by an intervention at the time, but I will send her an e-mail. However, I can tell her that the Foreign Office will be the designated channel as it always has been and as was explained in the House of Lords when the matter was debated there.

Clause 3

Request for provisional arrest

The Chairman: Is it the Committee's will that clause 3 stand part—

Mrs. Gillan rose—

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