The Hague, 23 May 2008 (FH) - The French Parliament will discuss next June the law of adaptation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a legal text several times amended, has been subject of many debates since Paris ratified the ICC statute in 2000.

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Adopted by treaty in July 1998, the permanent Court has the jurisdiction to prosecute persons responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since 1 July 2002. But contrary to the ad hoc tribunals, the Court only intervenes if the concerned states do not have the means or the will to prosecute themselves. By signing the Geneva Conventions, those on torture, countries already had the obligation to prosecute before their courts the authors of such crimes.

But this provision was never really put into practice and it is the advent of the ICC which has slowly pushed countries to adapt their criminal codes as to have the legal instruments allowing them to proceed with such trials. Due to an inability to prosecute, countries faced the risk of seeing their citizens be prosecuted before an international court.

The bill presented before the French Parliament does not give "universal jurisdiction" to France. It makes it only possible for French judges to prosecute suspected French citizens for such crimes. To date, this universal jurisdiction - which in theory must make it possible to try any person responsible for such crimes, whatever the place where they were committed, the nationality of the victims or that of the criminals - is only exerted in France to prosecute persons responsible for acts of torture, terrorism, as well as the authors of crimes committed during the war in the former Yugoslavia or during the Rwandan genocide.

In an official statement, the coalition of non-governmental organizations is protesting the bill, asserting in particular that the law leaves open the possibility, for the authors of such crimes, who would not be French, to find sanctuary on French territory in all impunity.

For their part, the rapporteurs of the commission of the laws of the Senate estimate, in their report from 14 May, that it does not belong to the State Parties but to the "ICC to replace the failing country which would have normally had the jurisdiction to try the author of an international crime .Which jurisdiction is more legitimate than the International Criminal Court, without wounding the principle of equality between the states within the international community, to assume such a mission?", the rapporteurs wrote, basing themselves on the example of Belgium. "Belgium which had risked for a time to recognize a truly universal jurisdiction of its jurisdiction had to renounce it. Our European neighbours generally recognize universal jurisdiction only under very strict conditions", they noted.

The introduction of war crimes into the criminal code is the most important advancement of this bill. But the NGOs are also against the maintenance of statutory limitations, extended to 30 years, for war crimes, whereas the Rome Statute stipulates that the crimes of the jurisdiction of the Court do not lapse.

In 1998, during the negotiations in Rome, and which led to the adoption of the treaty on the statute of the Court, France had amended article 124, according to which a state, by ratifying the treaty, can suspend for seven years the jurisdiction of the Court in connection with war crimes. To date, only France and Colombia have used this clause. The adoption of the law of adaptation by the Parliament should "lead France to lift very shortly its reservation concerning the jurisdiction of the ICC in regards to war crimes", they added..


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