Israel won't ratify world court

(Note: This article is of extreme importance, for it not only applies to Israel, but everyone in the world. Please also note the reference to definitions that is made in the article.)

June 12, 2002

By DAN IZENBERG Jerusalem Post Internet Edition Quick Glance Maps -- show you where the news is taking place: To submit a Letter to the Editor:

Israel will not ratify its signing of the Rome Constitution in the foreseeable future, and will therefore not become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) that will begin functioning on July 1, Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein said yesterday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Law Committee attended by government officials and outside experts in international law, Rubinstein said there is a consensus against ratifying the Rome Constitution, which established the framework for the ICC. "We will not ratify the agreement because we fear the politicization of the ICC, not because we have anything to hide," said Rubinstein.

He said that during the founding international conference in Rome at which the ICC constitution was drafted, Israel was shocked to find that Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are considered war crimes. That, and the gang-up against Israel during the Durban Conference on human rights in South Africa, have made Israel mistrust the intentions of some of the ICC member states regarding the court's functions.

Other speakers supported Rubinstein. According to Foreign Ministry legal adviser Allan Baker, "We should stand on the sidelines and see how the court develops."

One of Baker's predecessors, Hebrew University law professor Ruth Lapidot, said she would not recommend "relying on judges if they come from some of the countries which have already ratified the agreement."

So far, 67 countries have ratified the Rome Constitution out of the 127 who signed it. Israel and the US refused to vote for the constitution when it was drafted in 1998, but signed the agreement before the December 31, 2000, deadline. The US has since backed out of its signature, but Israel, for the time being, is watching and waiting.

As of July 1, the court will accept complaints, on condition they are not retroactive, against individuals suspected of violating international criminal law. The court building is currently under construction in The Hague . The judges and prosecuting attorneys are due to be chosen by the end of 2003, and trials will begin after that.

The court is charged with prosecuting genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression. The drafters of the Rome Constitution refused to include terrorism as an international crime, because they failed to agree on a definition of the term.

Even if Israel does not belong to the ICC, its citizens can still be prosecuted if one of the member states lodges a complaint.

Rubinstein said he does not believe the Palestinian Authority will be able to lodge complaints, because it is not a country. But according to a paper presented by the Knesset, it is likely that Syria will complain against new settlement construction on the Golan Heights. Furthermore, the UN Security Council may refer any criminal allegation to the ICC against any country, whether it belongs to the ICC or not.

In the meantime, Rubinstein has established an interministerial committee, headed by attorney Rahel Sucar, assistant to the state attorney for special projects, and including representatives of the Justice, Foreign, and Defense ministries and the IDF. The committee's task is to prepare the country for the possible scenarios it could face in the future.

According to Sucar, there are several advantages to not becoming an ICC member.

One is that member countries must subordinate themselves to the rulings of the court. For another, they must extradite suspects to stand trial and must also hand over all documents demanded by the court.

Bar Association representative Nitza Shapira Liba'i called on the Knesset to pass legislation that would be compatible with international law, and warned that the government is "closing its eyes" to the new reality created by the establishment of the court.

Law Committee chairman Ophir Pines-Paz warned the government that "if we do not change our policies regarding the settlements, we will get ourselves in trouble. We don't need 'another settlement and another outpost.' The government must not take ideological decisions that will cause problems for individual Israelis."

Rubinstein stressed that the government would defend any Israeli who is forced to stand trial before the ICC as long as he has fulfilled his duties as determined by the state, and obeyed its laws and standards.