THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT – 14 January 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: The hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) referred to the debate on 3 April 2001 on the International Criminal Court Bill. I was privileged to take part in that debate and I outlined then six good reasons for supporting the establishment of the International Criminal Court. The first was to punish past killers, the second to deter future killers, the third to embarrass those who shelter killers, the fourth to force countries to put killers in their midst on trial – preferably domestically – and the fifth to prove beyond doubt that the killings took place. The sixth was to bring out aspects of the truth that might otherwise remain hidden.

Like the hon. Member for Moray, I had read a great deal about former International Military Tribunals dealing with atrocities. I had personal reasons for doing that because my family was caught up in such events before I was born. I read of the way in which some of the worst war criminals were sheltered after the war by countries which ought to have known better, were helped to get there by various organisations – including even some branches of the Roman Catholic Church – which ought to have known better, and were massaged by certain intelligence services which ought to have known better. There were cases that were not properly investigated, such as that of Mengele in Brazil. His family remained in regular contact with him from West Germany until his death – a contact that could easily have been found out if the West German Government had wanted to make the effort.

Like the hon. Member for Moray, I believe that there is a need for an international machine to cope with what he rightly called "the worst crimes known to humanity". So far so good; however, this is the third debate on the subject in which I have participated, and it is the one that has made me most gloomy. In the first debate, I was extremely enthusiastic and in the second I was very enthusiastic, but was beginning to have doubts about the ways in which some people might regard the ICC as liable to interpret its work. In today's debate, I am becoming very concerned. If we are considering the worst crimes known to humanity, we should make sure that the ICC confines itself to those.

There are two ways of dealing with atrocities. There is the method that we have now: when the atrocities are sufficiently appalling, a special ad hoc international court is set up to deal with them – whether they be those perpetrated by the Nazis or the Japanese, or those which occurred in the Balkans or Rwanda – and only them. The disadvantage of doing it that way is that it takes a great deal of effort to set up such a court. There must be many borderline cases in which justice is not done because the countries concerned will not make the effort to set up a special court. That is the argument for having a standing court.

Unfortunately, it is beginning to dawn on me that there is a way in which the standing court could go badly wrong. Those doubts have been reinforced by some of the contributions that I have heard this afternoon. We know the saying: "The Devil makes work for idle hands". My concern is that a standing court, once set up, will look for things to investigate which might not come into the category that the hon. Member for Moray rightly defined as the worst crimes known to humanity. If a standing court is not to lose credibility, it should not be playing with definitions, as sometimes happens in domestic courts and even in quasi-legal inquiries. I heard talk of it possibly being appropriate for such a court to investigate the use of cluster bombs, but that would stretch the definition of what the court is designed to do.

I can foresee circumstances – I raised this during the debate that took place in 2001 – in which there might be a danger of people trying to take a case to the International Criminal Court about the fact that certain countries practise a policy of nuclear deterrence, on the basis that the threat of the use of nuclear weapons could be construed, in some bizarre way, as a war crime or a crime against humanity. We must recognise reality: we interfere with countries' sovereignty only in the most extreme and important cases – in which the crimes committed are most dire.

As someone who has proved myself, on two previous occasions, to be a friend of the idea of an International Criminal Court, I appeal to Members present and to those who read the debate who want the ICC to work – as I do – not to regard it as a tool for the creeping generation of some sort of world order of government. It should not be that. Its purpose should be to deal with the worst crimes known to humanity. If it confines itself to those cases, it will continue to receive cross-party support in this House.