USF Libraries | Special & Digital Collections | Exhibits

Establishing the International Criminal Court

David Scheffer, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues

Yeah, throughout the 1990s, there has been a tremendous amount of work at the United Nations on the establishment of an International Criminal Court: a permanent court that would hold individuals criminally responsible for the perpetration of these mega-crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and significant war crimes. The United States, the Clinton administration, has been in the lead in these negotiations from their inception. We’ve played a very, very active role; we’ve been very supportive throughout the administration in the establishment of a permanent International Criminal Court. That is why, as head of the U.S. delegation negotiating this court, the treaty for it, I in particular was very disappointed when, in Rome in July of 1998, a treaty was concluded among a large number of member states in the United Nations. A treaty text was agreed to that had a few provisions in it that were simply unacceptable to the United States: unacceptable to us not only because of what we consider to be their misreading of international law, but also because the United States does have special responsibilities in the field of international peace and security. And it’s extremely important for us to be able to respond to atrocities, to respond to threats to international peace and security, without, shall we say, the chilling effect of an international treaty that would automatically open up gateways of prosecution for our commanders, our civilian commanders, et cetera, without real cause. And that’s not a problem posed by, for example, San Marino, that may sign the treaty but have no military responsibilities whatsoever in the world. But it is a responsibility for a country like the United States. Now, we still hold out a very real hope that, with a constructive approach to this treaty that can be worked out among governments, that the United States will be able to join the treaty and be a very active part of the International Criminal Court once it’s established. It requires sixty countries ratifying the treaty; only four have done so, as of September 1999. But, it is extremely important that we work constructively with other governments to try to achieve some principles for this treaty that allow the United States to be a full player, because we believe very strongly in the principles of international justice. We also believe very strongly in the principles of international peace and security; and the ability of armed forces under very disciplined controls—such as ours are, and those of many of our friends and allies around the world—to be able to respond quickly and efficiently to massive human rights violations around the world. Something that I constantly see happen in my watch is there’s an atrocity that occurs, and the immediate call, whether it be by a particular government or by the non-governmental community, the human rights organizations, is immediately, “Send in the U.S. military to fix the problem.” And yet, to do so, to be in the position to do so, to have the capability to do so, to have the political will to do so, we have to be assured that we are not going to be subjected to a judicial machine that is tailored to literally take up any allegation that may be thrown at us with respect to how we use our military force and corner us and box us in and inhibit our ability to actually get the job done. And it’s not that we shy away from responsibility for compliance with these laws, far from that. In fact, our emphasis is that we will do our job to hold our soldiers responsible and to prosecute them when necessary. But we need to find some means within this treaty that better understands that point. And I remain optimistic that we can do this, and that other governments understand the great value that the United States can bring to a treaty regime and an international court with our resources, our expertise, our information, and our enforcement capabilities. It would be foolish for the international community to walk away from those assets for an international court.

About this video

About David Scheffer