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India: The International Criminal Court: Challenges ahead

03-02-2000 News Release 00/03

A one-day seminar aimed at focusing the attention of academic circles on the International Criminal Court (ICC) was held on 29 January by the ICRC in cooperation with the law department of Punjab University in Chandigarh, the joint capital of the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana.

A senior judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court opened the seminar, stressing the need to set up an internationally acceptable mechanism to punish heinous crimes against humanity committed in times of armed conflict. A number of eminent academics from universities in northern India, senior lawyers, students and journalists discussed various aspects of the ICC. In spite of differences of opinion on specific points, they concluded that the ICC marked an important step forward in strengthening the international judicial system, especially given the complexity of today's conflicts. Topics discussed by international law experts and ICRC representatives included the jurisdiction and structure of the ICC, the crimes that come under its purview and national implementation of international humanitarian law.

The seminar was a landmark event, not only because it brought to the fore a pressing issue of international law but also because it highlighted certain misconceptions about the ICC which could hamper its establishment. The issue of State sovereignty and national interests versus the powers of the ICC, the difficulty of collecting evidence, the problem of finding impartial prosecutors acceptable to the entire international community and the definition of crimes that would come within the ICC's jurisdictio n emerged as some of the challenges that needed to be addressed as quickly as possible. The seminar made it clear that broader dissemination of the ICC statute adopted in July 1998 in Rome was needed. Moreover, confidence-building measures between States and efforts at placing the ICC in the context of geopolitical realities would be crucial to its widespread acceptance.