Establishment of the International Criminal Court: Why Did Yemen Vote Against the World? [Archives:1998/30/Front Page]

July 27 1998

In Rome, on July 17th, at the end of five weeks of deliberations, following 3 years of drafting and re-drafting, an important world dream became a reality. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created by a UN ministerial conference. That was the most important legal conference of our world over the last several decades.
The call to establish a permanent world judicial mechanism to act as a deterrent to gross human rights violations was first heard in 1945, following WW2. But many complications blocked any progress. It was only on December 17, 1996, that the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish the ICC.
According to the ICC statute, individuals – not countries – who commit serious crimes of concern to the international community, such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity – including widespread murder of civilians, torture, and mass rape – will be brought before the court. In other words, the ICC is a global judicial institution, complementing national legal systems.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that Yemen voted against the establishment of the ICC. Of the 185 UN nations which participated in the conference, only seven voted against the ICC, and Yemen was one of them. Why?
The 7 countries which voted against the world and stood opposed to the efforts of a massive coalition of NGOs were Algeria, China, Israel, Libya, Qatar, USA and Yemen. Strange bedfellows, ha? Each nation opposed the ICC for a different reason.
The US voted against it because it wanted a privileged status, which the rest of the world refused. It demanded ironclad guarantees to preclude the possibility that any of its citizens will ever appear before the ICC.
Actually, that was not the first time that the US administration refuses reasonable safeguards responsive to its ‘legitimate’ concerns and ends up standing alone against the will of the world, only to be beaten back. It did so in Ottawa, on the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention; in Kobe, on the Environment Protocol; and on the Minimum Age Labor Convention. It stood alone again in Rome.
Another country that voted against the world was Israel. The Jewish State objects to one of the court’s articles which makes it a war crime for Israelis to settle in Arab territories captured in 1967. The ICC article defines as a crime “the transfer – directly or indirectly – by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory, within or outside this territory”.
China is excessively sensitive to issues of national sovereignty. Libya has an on-going legal problem on Lockerbie. I do not know the considerations that went into the Algerian and Qatari decisions. But why did Yemen vote against the ICC? I do not see any reason, except, and maybe, US influence.
It is no secret that as the US demands on the ICC were refused, Washington worked over time to spread concern among military dictators around the world that the Rome conference was something they should be concerned about. Experience has shown that rogue regimes are rarely willing or able to call their own gross human rights violators to account, especially those in positions of authority. Reaching out to governments that have militaries with poor human rights record, and countries where there is a fragile transition from dictatorship to democracy, US military personnel roamed the world to urge active involvement, in opposing the ICC.
Sadly, Yemen may have swallowed the bait. The price was negligible, given the lack of any local lobby effort on behalf of the idea.
The birth of the ICC, headquartered in The Hague, is yet another progress for our little world. The 18-judge tribunal will start work once 60 countries ratify the treaty.
Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf,
Chief Editor, Yemen Times.