UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 15 | October
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
Lee hopes the tragedy will lead the U.S. government to reconsider
"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
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
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.