an area of the map for world news.
April 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 4)
Politics, and Global Relations
Bonino, Inter Press Service (international news service), Rome,
Italy, Feb. 8, 2002
the past few months a transatlantic dispute has been brewing
on the issue of international judicial cooperation, and it has
been straining relations between the United States and its allies
and friends in the European Union.
The dispute goes beyond the opposition between the European
Union and the United States, because it is clearly on a worldwide
scale. However, unlike the divergent positions on genetically
modified corn or the hole in the ozone layer, which have been
aired ad nauseam by the international mass media, this dispute,
which concerns international law and the rights of all the inhabitants
of the planet, is not a media event and does not seem to stir
the passions of political parties or chanceries or even movements
and organizations whose very purpose is to promote human rights.
It does not even seem to move those who champion the global
defense of the rights of the weakest, as is the case of
the noisy and itinerant anti-globalization movement.
The issue of the controversy is the International Criminal Court,
a permanent tribunal that would have jurisdiction over war crimes,
crimes against humanity, and genocide. The charter of the International
Criminal Court was approved in July 1998 in Rome, after a laborious
diplomatic conference convened by the United Nations.
As of today, the court charter has been signed by 139 countries
and ratified by 52. For the court to begin to function, 60 ratifications
are needed, and it is likely that this number will be reached
in the next few months.
To achieve this objective, Spain, which presently chairs the
European Union, is working hard, as was confirmed by President
José María Aznar, speaking before the European
Parliament. In the meantime, on Feb. 8 and 9, there is a conference
in Seville organized by a broad coalition of organizations to
speed up the procedure for ratification of the courts
charter by all the Mediterranean countries.
The United States opposes the institution of the International
Criminal Court, while the EU resolutely supports it. Washington
has proclaimed that it is unacceptable that a U.S. citizen,
especially a member of the armed forces, could be indicted and
tried by other than American judges. Even a concession did not
help; namely, to include a clause in the charter recognizing
the precedence of the judicial system of the country of the
accused to try the accused under international law.
After the crimes perpetrated on Sept. 11 against the American
people and against all humanity, it was hoped that the Bush
administration, eager to create a world anti-terrorist coalition,
would re-examine its rejection of the court, if only to respond
to the deeply felt need of the international community to find
new and effective tools, including judicial ones, to fight global
But Washingtons position remained inflexible. I am among
those who, even while recognizing Washingtons right to
identify and punish with every means those responsible for Sept.
11, understand that the best way to conclude the military phase
of the conflict is to designate the masters of terror (such
as Bin Laden) as detainees waiting to be brought to justice
(like Milosevic), and to administer justice in its classic form:
a fair trial, with impartial judges, without special tribunals
It is with the bitterness of one who believes the best model
of democracy is the American one that I observe that not even
the Sept. 11 tragedy seems to have helped Americans and Europeans
to bridge the gap between their respective legal cultures. On
Sept. 15, Bush petitioned the EU, which was then involved in
a delicate task of harmonizing its 15 criminal justice systems,
to revise its plan to unify arrest warrants for member countries,
to eliminate all discrimination with respect to extradition
petitions originating in the United States or other third-party
This was an unfortunate misstep that irritated the Europeans
on two counts. First, because extradition has remained under
the national jurisdiction of EU countries. Second, because the
European Convention on Human Rights prohibits the extradition
of anyone to countries where the death penalty is in effect
for the crimes for which that person is accused.
As if all this were not enough, on Dec. 7, 2001, the ultraconservative
Republican senator, Jesse Helms, won approval for an amendment
to the defense budget, which, along with re-denying military
aid to countries that ratify the court charter, proclaimed Washingtons
right to liberate by every means at its disposal
any U.S. soldiers who might be arrested by the future international
court. This amounts to a slap to the 139 countries that have
supported the creation of the court.
Before the joint session of the House of Representatives and
the Senate approved the budget, eliminating Helms inflammatory
proposal and replacing it with a text that limits itself to
denying funds from the Department of Defense that might be destined
for the International Criminal Court, the European Parliament
had taken the lead and fired off an advisory to Washington.
On Dec. 13, it approved a resolution that expresses serious
reservations about judicial cooperation between the United States
and the EU and requires that every agreement in this sphere
must respect the European Convention on Human Rights.
Admirers of U.S. democracy, who are anxiously awaiting the goal
of 60 ratifications to be reached, hope that this will happen
in time to proclaim at the International Justice Conference
next July 17, which will mark the fourth anniversary of the
Treaty of Rome.
They also hope that someone in Washington will act to prevent
the Wests two pillars from deepening their division and
to prevent the United States from finding itself, in the sphere
of international justice, isolated even more than what its maintenance
of the death penalty has brought it.
I wonder what function is fulfilled by multinational political
associations, such as the Socialist International, international
associations of Christian Democrats and liberals, or multinational
associations of so-called civil society, starting with those
that routinely condemn globalization, if they are unwilling
to take a stand on the possibility of a globalization of justice
and the fundamental rights of persons.
Emma Bonino is a member of the European Parliament and the
leader of the Italian Radical Party.