Paris, September 19, 2011 (FH) - Muammar Gaddafi and two of his aides all wanted by the International Criminal Court should be tried in their own country if possible, United States Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues Stephen Rapp told Hirondelle in a recent interview in Paris. Although he criticized some aspects of the ICC, Rapp nevertheless spoke also of the current US government's willingness to work with that institution, without being a member.

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"At the moment we are waiting to see what happens regarding the individuals charged by the ICC," said Rapp, when asked about the Libyan suspects. "If those individuals are arrested, we understand that the Libyan authorities want to try them in the national system, in part because they have cases on crimes that extend far beyond the February acts cited by the prosecutor (of the ICC). Our position is, if it can be done at a national level, we want to see it done there."

At the request of the ICC Prosecutor, Interpol issued on September 9 three Red Notices against Muammar Gaddafi, his son and de facto Prime Minister Saif Al-Islam and his head of Military Intelligence Abdullah El-Senoussi, all of whom are wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity committed in February 2011.

Before being appointed to his current position in 2009, Rapp was Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and led its prosecution of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. From 2001 to 2007, he also served at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda where he became Chief of Prosecutions in 2005. Asked about current warmer relations between the ICC and the US, which is not a States Party (member) of the Court, Rapp told Hirondelle his administration's goal was to "have justice in the place where the crimes are committed" where possible, but also to work with the ICC.

"We are looking for ways, without at this point being a member, that we can help with witness protection, sharing information, diplomatic support, and on the question of arresting the fugitives," he told Hirondelle. "I am reluctant to criticize an institution in which now our approach is to work with it."

Whereas the US tried to undermine the ICC under the first Bush administration, relations have since improved. The two sides have been openly cooperating since Barack Obama came to power in January 2009.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch strongly criticized the ICC for its inefficiency, as not a single verdict has yet been handed down since its creation nine years ago. Rapp did agree with some of these criticisms. "The ICC still has only five people in custody in cases that are much simpler, frankly, than cases that are at the ICTR and at ICTY," he told Hirondelle. "But now that senior cases are expected, it will be forced into a situation where it has to be more and more efficient."

Rapp also stressed that US reluctance to join the ICC was not so much to do with the difficulties of the institution but because it was "almost impossible" at present to have the ICC's founding treaty ratified by the Senate.

"There is also a concern that the ICC could unfairly target Americans because we are involved in so many places, in our view doing the right thing, protecting people from terror and atrocity. That problem could be overcome over the course of ICC experience. War crimes need to be sufficiently grave, they need to be systematic. In time the jurisdiction could build confidence on that, but that won't happen overnight."

Rapp stressed that the US is still strongly supporting mixed courts and international expertise within national judicial systems in places such as Uganda, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 "We look for ways that we can provide assistance" in Ivory Coast, he said, where many suspects might need to be tried. And in the DRC, he said the US was working "on the establishment of a specialized court with mixed composition".

"We are not talking so much about internationalized courts as mixed courts within national systems where it is still the national system," he continued. "If you can do that without creating a new elephant, where you are paying every judge like an Undersecretary General of the UN, then you can do it with the kinds of resources that are available and the benefit to the national system will be greater."


© Hirondelle News Agency