Australia to ratify world court

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    13:11, Thursday, 20 June 2002

    CANBERRA, June 20 (Reuters) - Australia said on Thursday it
    would ratify a treaty to set up an international criminal court,
    but would add stipulations to sooth opposition from backbench
    lawmakers who fear the treaty threatens national sovereignty.

    Prime Minister John Howard said Australia would retain
    control over its judicial sovereignty under the treaty, which in
    April created the first world tribunal to prosecute people for
    war crimes, genocide and other gross human rights violations.

    "We believe the ICC (international criminal court) will make
    a valuable further addition to the efforts of the world to bring
    to justice people who perpetrate atrocious crimes," Howard told a
    news conference.

    But he said Australia would attach a declaration to its
    ratification to reaffirm the primacy of Australian law in a bid
    to ease the concerns of backbench members of his ruling
    conservative coalition about national sovereignty.

    While Australia has been long supporter of the world court,
    the prime minister cast doubt on ratification early in June after
    government lawmakers began echoing U.S. concerns that the treaty
    could be used against military personnel serving overseas.

    The United States withdrew its support for ratification of
    the treaty in May amid concerns within the U.S. military that its
    soldiers could be prosecuted for war crimes even if Washington
    did not believe a crime had been committed.

    Howard said Australia's declaration would stipulate that no
    person can be arrested on a warrant issued by the court or be
    surrendered to the court without the prior consent of the
    Australian government.

    The declaration would also stipulate that the crimes of
    genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes would be
    interpreted according to Australian law.

    "I am satisfied and the government is satisfied after very
    careful examination, and particularly in the light of these
    stipulations, that there will be no compromising of Australian
    sovereignty," Howard said.

    The world court became a reality on April 11 when the number
    of countries ratifying the founding treaty crossed the 60 mark,
    but the United States has since withdrawn its support.

    The court is expected to go into operation next year in the
    Dutch city of The Hague.
    ((Andrea Hopkins, Canberra newsroom, +612-6273-3701, fax
    +612-6273-2842, [email protected]))

    (c) Reuters Limited 2002
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