War Crimes Prosecutor Vows Impartiality.

An Argentine human rights lawyer was sworn in Monday as the first prosecutor of the fledgling international war crimes tribunal and said he would work to convince skeptics of the court's legitimacy.

Luis Moreno Ocampo sought to address concerns about the tribunal's effectiveness at the swearing-in ceremony at The Hague's Peace Palace.

Ocampo refused to comment on U.S. opposition to the court, but said persuading skeptics of the body's independence will be a major task. He said its deeds will be the best measure of its fairness.

The court will function as a court of last resort, only acting against the most serious violations of international law, primarily functioning as an information broker in international investigations.

``The number of cases that reach the court should not be a measure of its efficiency,'' Ocampo said. ``On the contrary, the absence of trials before this court, as a consequence of the regular functioning of national institutions, would be a major success.''

The court, modeled on the ad-hoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed after the tribunal officially came into existence on July 1, 2002. Although it has already received about 400 complaints from around the world alleging war crimes, it could take months before a first case is heard.

The guests at the swearing-in ceremony included Benjamin Ferencz, lead U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

``It is a new institution, created to bring a greater sense of justice to innocent victims of massive crimes who seek to live in peace and human dignity,'' said Ferencz, 86, who expressed hope that the U.S. government would eventually support the court.

The 1998 Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court has been ratified by 90 countries, but the court faces opposition from the United States. Washington says it fears that Americans, particularly soldiers abroad, could fall victim to politically motivated prosecutions.

The Bush administration has signed bilateral treaties with 37 countries which have agreed not to hand over American citizens to the court.

Non-governmental organizations claim Washington has strong-armed countries into signing the deals by threatening to withhold humanitarian aid or military support and even blocking NATO membership.

Last week, the United States won another yearlong exemption for American peacekeepers from prosecution by the court in a vote at the United Nations, but the EU warned the immunity would not be permanent.

Ocampo will establish the court's prosecution policy and decide which cases should go to trial.

Possibly more important, his performance will influence perceptions around the world of whether the court is seen as fair and impartial. Prosecutors will only be able to prosecute crimes in member countries, unless asked to intervene either by the United Nations Security Council or a nonmember country.

Ocampo once worked as a defense attorney and prosecutor in organized crime and governmental corruption cases in Argentina.

He gained international attention in the mid-1980s as deputy prosecutor in the trial of nine former top military commanders under junta leader Gen. Jorge Videla who were charged with torture and killings.

[Source: NY Times Online News Report, June 16, 2003]

Corte Penal Internacional

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