May 31, 2010 / 3:17 PM / in 7 years

Ban presses countries to join war crimes court

<p>Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni addresses the ICC review conference in Kampala, May 31, 2010. U.N. A conference to review the International Criminal Court started in the Ugandan capital on Monday with calls for more states to sign up to the court. REUTERS/Stringer</p>

KAMPALA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Monday urged all states to sign up to the International Criminal Court and rejected criticism the body was a court for only African crimes.

Delegates from member states are meeting in Uganda’s capital Kampala over the next 10 days to discuss the ICC, set up in 2002 as the world’s first permanent war crimes court, and seek to give it extra powers to prosecute crimes of state aggression.

“If the ICC is to have the reach it should possess ... we must have universal support, only then will perpetrators have no place to hide,” Ban told delegates.

The ICC has mostly focused on African conflicts where governments referred cases, including Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion. Sudan’s Darfur conflict was the first case to be referred to the court by the U.N. Security Council in 2005.

But Ban denied the court is selectively targeting Africa.

“Even if it saddens me to say this, the evidence will take the court beyond Africa sooner rather than later,” he said.

Ban also welcomed the presence of the United States, which is not a member of the ICC but has started to re-engage with the court and is attending the conference as an observer.

“Under the leadership of President Obama, I understand the United States is very seriously reviewing all of its policies and I do hope the U.S. will join the ICC as soon as possible,” Ban told reporters.

The ICC has been ratified by 111 member states, but not by the United States, Russia, China or India. Supporters have urged nations to make strong and renewed commitments to the ICC and step up their efforts to arrest indicted suspects.

<p>U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (R), flanked by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, addresses the ICC review conference in Kampala, May 31, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer</p>

“What tends to happen is that these types of courts get set up and then are left high and dry when the going gets tough,” Richard Dicker of the group Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

‘TIME OF ACTION’

Kofi Annan -- who as U.N. secretary-general attended the Rome Statute’s founding conference more than decade ago -- said doubts about the ICC’s credibility will persist as long as three permanent members of the Security Council refuse to sign up.

“What kind of leadership is this which would absolve the powerful from the rules they apply to the weak?” Annan said.

He also urged countries not to forget why they established the ICC, saying the international community had “failed miserably” to protect victims in places like Rwanda and Bosnia.

Akello Mildred, a survivor of a 2004 attack that killed 80 people in northern Uganda’s Lira district, said she has not yet heard anything about those who killed three of her children.

“We want the international community to make sure that those who attacked us answer for these crimes,” Akello said.

As one of its five “situations,” the ICC is investigating more than 20 years of civil war between Uganda’s government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and has four outstanding arrest warrants against LRA members. None are in custody.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said it was now the “time of action” and urged all arrest warrants to be carried out.

Delegates at the Kampala conference will also discuss proposals giving the court powers to probe state aggression, one of four grave crimes over which the ICC has jurisdiction but one which it is yet to tackle, in part because of political sensitivities. The issue could again prove divisive in Kampala.

Editing by Peter Graff

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