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Analytical Studies

Objectives by Issue (Evaluative Criteria): 1998 Birmingham Summit

Human Rights

Concrete commitments on human rights will not likely be made at the Birmingham Summit because of the highly contentious nature, precedent-setting implications and correlated financial costs. If a resolution is tabled, however, it will be under the leadership of Canada and/or Germany, for whom human rights initiatives have recently become the hallmark of their foreign policy. After de-mining at Denver, this year's groundbreaking initiative could be the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The ICC aims to punish human rights violators world wide and would replace the ad hoc tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, expected to cost $120 million for 1998.

The Birmingham Summit may indeed be seen as a turning point in reconciling a host of differences that emerged out of the three-week preparatory conference which ended April 6, 1998 at the UN headquarters in New York.

The final session of the committee agreed that the court will have jurisdiction over at least three core crimes: genocide, war crimes (including rape) and crimes against humanity. The differences focused on the organization of the court, the tribunal's relation to the UN Security Council, the powers of the prosecutor, and financing.

While the technical hurdles behind the ICC will be addressed by the UN sponsored diplomatic conference to be held on June 15-July 17, 1998, Canada and Germany may attempt to resolve at Birmingham the key problem of the independence of the court and its prosecutors. If they are successful, Birmingham will be seen as pivotal in directing the June conference and the future of human rights.

To this end, they will emphasize the existing consensus of some 44 "like-minded" nations including the Nordic states and South Africa in pushing for an impartial court, with the jurisdiction to investigate crimes anywhere in the world. As Financial Times analyst Edward Mortimer points out, they will argue that a credible International Criminal Court cannot be subjected to the UN Security Council, for it must not be a political "weapon . . . to sheath and unsheathe, in order to bully guilty men into grubby compromises." (April 8, 1998, FT).

The US, France, and China, possibly with the backing of Japan will counter this proposition calling for a court subordinate to the UN Security Council and allowed to act only at the request of states. The basic argument is the Security Council should have the final say in order to monitor international peace and security. The Security Council (especially France and the United States) is concerned that complete autonomy for ICC prosecutors could interfere in peacekeeping initiatives and negotiations.

France, the US and China also want the consent of the state where the crime took place to be a prerequisite for ICC involvement. This would allow for automatic amnesty in dealing with the Saddam Husseins of the world, for whom this court is intended to try. France and the US justify their position on the grounds it may expose their nationals to unfair complaints from parties to the conflicts that their peacekeepers attempt to mediate.

With eyebrows raised in Washington, Paris, and Moscow, the odds are clearly against Canada and Germany. On the one hand, it's critical that the US and other key countries as pointed out by US State Department spokesman James Rubin back the ICC. But if it is not to become another opulent, ineffective bureaucracy, vulnerable to manipulation by powerful, interested states, the ICC must retain its juridical independence.

If Canada and Germany manage the struggle successfully in spite of the deadlock, it will undoubtedly mark the greatest victory for human rights yet, dictating the direction of the June diplomatic conference. Behind this, hides the added incentive of a potential Nobel Prize for the foreign ministers of Canada and/or Germany.

But the likelihood of a successful resolution at the G8 Birmingham Summit will depend on the priority ranking of this issue on the global agenda and the good will and determination of the political leaders. The regrettably low significance accorded to human rights, the "would-be" resolution's contentious character and low certainty of a successful outcome make it a burdensome enterprise to embark upon.

The G8 Summit provides leaders with very open and public displays before the global press, and provides them with private forums on which to tackle global matters at the highest executive level. Canada and Germany can take advantage of the bilaterals to lobby the Security Council members and make some significant, although not public, progress in getting the major powers of the world to endorse establishing a legitimate and functional ICC. Despite the keen interest of NGOs, academics, and international leaders, we expect the Birmingham Communiqu=E9 to co-opt yet another low-key caption on the "fundamental importance of human rights". Nevertheless, the power of the G8 countries (both physically and socially) cannot be ignored and progress made in the bilaterals can still generate significant influence over the UN conference in June.

Document prepared by: Maja Nazaruk and Mike Youash
April 1998

~ Objectives by Issue (Evaluative Criteria): 1998 Birmingham Summit ~

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