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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World War Crimes Court Gets Closer

UNITED NATIONS -- The treaty to establish the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal is expected to get the 60 ratifications needed to trigger its entry into force in the next two to three months, supporters of the tribunal said Wednesday.

If countries backing the tribunal then act quickly, the court could start operating in the middle of next year, despite strong U.S. opposition, the supporters told a news conference.

Once the 60th ratification is deposited, the treaty will enter into force in 60 to 90 days, said William Pace, head of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, which represents over 1,000 organizations and legal experts supporting the tribunal.

When the treaty to establish the court was adopted in Rome in July 1998, the expectation was that it would take 20 to 25 years to get the 60 ratifications, Pace told a news conference.

But in just over 3 1/2 years, 52 countries have deposited their instruments of ratification, most recently Portugal and Ecuador in early February.

A total of 139 countries have signed the treaty.

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, urged countries supporting the court to make sure the 60th ratification is deposited during the April 8-19 meeting of the committee preparing for the court's operation.

That would be a "wonderful" sign of support and give "ample time" for other countries to ratify before the first meeting of countries that are parties to the treaty, which is expected to be held in New York in September, he said.

These countries will elect the court's 18 judges and chief prosecutor. They will appoint other court officials in the following months and set up the tribunal's framework.

Pace said the coalition will campaign to get qualified judges and try to prevent the "crude horsetrading" for votes that countries usually engage in.

Dicker, who just returned from observing the start of the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, said those proceedings gave him "great confidence" that the Yugoslav tribunal and the new international criminal court will be able "to bring justice in the case of horrific crimes."

The international criminal court will step in only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves in cases of the most serious crimes committed by individuals: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression. It will only have jurisdiction over crimes committed after the treaty enters into force.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the treaty at the last minute, but recommended against ratification until the United States received more assurances that U.S. citizens wouldn't be subject to frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions. The United States has campaigned unsuccessfully to exempt U.S. soldiers and government officials from prosecution.

U.S. President George W. Bush called the treaty "flawed," and there has been speculation the United States might renounce its signature.