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PRESS CONFERENCE ON PREPARATORY COMMISSION FOR INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

26 February 1999

After two weeks, indications were that all parties involved were trying to make progress and reach general agreement, Philippe Kirsch, Chairman of the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon. However, perhaps since it was the first session, progress had been slow.

He said that the Statute adopted in Rome for an International Criminal Court would enter into force when 60 States had ratified it. At that time, an assembly of States, which would be the engine of the Court, would be created. The role of the Preparatory Commission, which was just completing its first session, was to make proposals for a number of practical arrangements for the establishment and operation of the Court.

The Commission had eight subjects, or instruments, to prepare, two of which had received priority. The first was rules of procedure and evidence, and the second was elements of crimes -- designed to assist the Court in interpreting the crimes included in the Statute. The Commission had to finish its work on those two subjects, for which working groups had been established, by 30 June 2000.

The third subject that had been touched upon was the definition of the crime of aggression, which had been included in the Rome Statute, but could not be identified at the time. The Preparatory Commission had a mandate to develop a definition of the crime of aggression, for a review conference to be held seven years after the entry into force of the Statute.

In connection to the mandate given to it by the Rome Conference, the Commission had been asked by the General Assembly to discuss ways to enhance the Court's effectiveness and acceptance, in addition to studying the various issues. Mechanisms to do just that would probably be put into place Friday afternoon.

Responding to a question on how long the ratification process was expected to last, Mr. Kirsch said that the Statute was a fairly complicated document and that it would take some time for any country that looked at it seriously to modify its legislation for that purpose. It was reasonable to expect that the Statute would enter into force between three and five years from now.

Asked whether there had been any moves to accommodate the United States, he said that the subject of elements of crime had been a request by the United States during the Rome Conference. It had been their initiative and they had tabled a paper on the subject at the current session. That paper had been discussed along with two or three other papers. While there had been some concern that it would be a very difficult subject, all indications so far had been that delegations were prepared to cooperate with one another.

Secondly, he added, it was clear that the United States had broader concerns which had not been discussed at the current session, but would be discussed later. He intended to appoint individuals who would be in charge of exploring, with all delegations, what could be done on issues that were not being dealt with at the current session, namely, the other six subjects and the question of acceptance. Those areas would be the subject of private discussions over the next few months.

On being asked if he had appointed anyone to preside over a subcommittee on aggression, Mr. Kirsch said that on Monday he had appointed a coordinator whose function was to determine how delegations wished to approach the subject. Aggression had been a very sensitive issue in Rome, with no agreement reached on substance. His preference was not to relive the Conference, but to proceed in a more pragmatic way, which would not immediately involve formal discussions.

Responding to a question on how important it was to have the United States as a member of the Court for its impact and functioning, he said that most countries had considered that a Court with the support of the United States would be stronger in a variety of ways. The general intention was to talk to the United States to assess how its concerns could be accommodated.

Elaborating on how the Court would be stronger with the support of the United States, he said that the fact that the United States was a permanent member of the Security Council was important, since the Council could trigger the Court's jurisdiction. Like that of the United Kingdom, France and a number of other countries, the support of the United States in political, financial and human resources terms was important.

Considering that various human rights groups had not been happy with the stance of the United States earlier in the week, a correspondent asked what had emerged to bring about an agreement. Mr. Kirsch said that some papers had been tabled at the beginning of the session, including one by the United States on elements of crimes. Some people had concluded that whatever had been tabled by the United States would be their final position, and that position might differ from the Statute.

However, he did not share that perception of the position of the United States, he continued, in the sense that how one best determined the position of a country was not based on an initial proposal, but on how willing that country was to hold a dialogue with other countries on a variety of proposals. While he had not attended the technical discussion, he was told that delegations, including the United States, were interested in making progress, and that progress had indeed been made.

Responding to a question on why the General Assembly's definition of aggression could not be used by the Court, he said that some countries would like a broad definition, which would include a number of acts, while others would like a more restricted, narrower definition. A second problem was that there had also been disagreement on what role the Security Council should have with respect to an act of aggression. Under the Charter, the Council had responsibility for international peace and security, including dealing with acts of aggression. The question then was whether before the Court could determine whether an individual had committed an act of aggression, it was necessary for the Council to first determine that an act of aggression had been committed by a State. It was an important issue on which there had been no agreement in Rome. He hoped that there would be enough preparatory work so that when substantive discussions did start on the issue, the atmosphere would be favourable.

Asked why the Council's definition should be applicable while the definition of the Assembly, which was the supreme body of all Member States, was not applicable, he said that the resolution adopted by the Assembly in 1974 was designed to assist the Council in determining whether or not an act of aggression had been committed. It was now up to delegations to determine whether or not that was a good basis.

On being asked whether he expected the United States to ratify the Statute within the next three to five years, he suggested that the question be posed to the United States directly.

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