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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 15 | October 4, 2001

UBC scholars strive to create court to try world criminals

Legal remedy would bring justice to bear on perpetrators of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes

by Michelle Cook staff writer

While the United States hunts for Osama bin Laden and other suspects in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, UBC's International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy (ICCLR) has been working on a legal antidote that could help bring international criminals to justice without the use of military action.

The centre has been at the forefront of a worldwide movement to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent organization for the prosecution of those who commit genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"The court is going to restrict where these people can run and hide," says Joanne Lee, a PhD candidate at the ICCLR who was instrumental in determining what UBC could do to help establish the court. She says the court has several goals.

"One of them is to provide a deterrent to anyone thinking of committing these crimes. But for it to work, it's going to require the support and commitment of an enormous number of countries," Lee adds.

In July 1998 in Rome, 120 nations agreed to a treaty to establish the court. The Rome Statute will come into force when 60 nations have ratified the treaty. To date 38, including Canada, have signed.

Lee, an international law expert from Australia, says the ICCLR has been a supporter of the International Criminal Court since shortly after its inception, and has focused on helping countries around the world to align their legal systems with the treaty.

With support from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the federal Dept. of Justice, the centre organized regional workshops in countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific.

It also produced a manual to assist countries to assess what changes they need to make to their laws in order to meet their treaty obligations. The manual has been translated into English, French, Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese and a Chinese version will be available soon.

"As a technical institution, not an advocacy institution, we want to ensure that when this court comes into existence, it will actually work," Lee says.

"In addition, the ICC is designed so that national legal systems worldwide will have the initial responsibility to prosecute. In ratifying the treaty, countries like Canada are actually strengthening their laws for prosecuting international crimes, and for helping each other try criminals."

So far the United States has expressed strong opposition to the ICC.

Lee hopes the tragedy will lead the U.S. government to reconsider its position.

"My hope is that they're starting to realize they need the co-operation of many other counties to address the issue they're facing," Lee says. "Through the ICC, they could seek the cooperation of all countries party to the treaty, including several in the Middle East, to hunt down bin Laden and prosecute him, and the chances of him surrendering to an impartial, independent, international institution are much higher."

While the ICC would have no jurisdiction over the recent attacks because the treaty was not ratified when they were committed, once the international court is established, it could try future crimes committed by terrorists.

The ICCLR was established in 1991 as a joint initiative of UBC, Simon Fraser University and the Society for the Reform of Criminal Law.

A United Nations affiliated institute, ICCLR's primary role is to provide advice and technical assistance on matters related to the reform of criminal law and criminal justice policy. It also launches national and international education and training initiatives.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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