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The International Criminal Court will strengthen Australia's global standing

By Andrew MacLeod and Greg Barns - posted Saturday, 15 June 2002

Twenty-five years ago this week Australia, together with the International Red Cross, took the lead in the development of the law on War Crimes. Yet today our nation has members of its government who wish to turn our back on past achievements and run a populist line of ‘national sovereignty’. This will ensure that we lose our status as a country committed to the continued development of laws against War Crimes.

On the 11 June 1977, more than 100 states adopted two Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. Nations like Australia had pushed successfully for the Law of War to now cover internal conflicts, wars of National Liberation and to give further protection to innocent civilians caught in the cross fire of conflict.

It is breaches of these Protocols and other laws that have Milosevic and the perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide facing justice in two ad hoc International Courts.


Australia had no difficulty signing up in 1977 as we recognised the need to bring the world’s evil to justice was greater than evil’s need to appeal to ‘National Sovereignty’. But today we risk being seen to let the world’s evil off the hook.

We are being asked to ratify the Rome Statute that would create the first permanent International Criminal Court to try the world’s evil – and government backbenchers led by former minister Bronwyn Bishop are refusing.

They claim that the International Criminal Court, with the power to try Australian soldiers, is a threat to our ‘National Sovereignty’ and not in our ‘national interest’. They say that Australia’s courts would no longer be the final arbiters of Australian’s guilt.

Bishop is not alone in her view. Milosevic, Pinochet, the WWII Japanese Leaders, the Nazis and Pol Pot have all been on record at various times saying that international courts like this should not be supported. So have the Americans – not surprising given their record in places like Vietnam.

Funnily enough though, those taking the opposing view, that the court should go ahead, include the Australian Defence Force, the United Kingdom, Australia’s negotiating team at the ICC Conference, most of the Commonwealth, modern day Japan, modern day Germany and ... modern day Yugoslavia.

Admiral Chris Barrie, Chief of the Australian Defence Force, said that the creation of the ICC would be no threat to Australian forces, rather the Court’s existence would make Australian soldiers’ jobs easier and safer in peace-keeping operations.


Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that Britain has ratified the ICC treaty as "it is in Britain’s national interest to do so. A more stable, democratic world is safer to live, travel and trade in."

Tim McCormack and Helen Durham, who headed Australia’s negotiating team recently wrote "the suggestion that if Australia ratifies the Rome Statute the High Court of Australia will no longer be the highest court of authority in this country is ludicrous".

Each of the above quotes negate arguments put by Bishop and highlight how odd it seems that Australia may side with Milosevic instead of the Australian Defence Force, with the Japanese WWII leaders instead of the Commonwealth or Pol Pot instead of our own negotiating team.

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About the Authors

Andrew MacLeod is Visiting Professor at King's College, London and Vice Chancellor's Distinguished Fellow at Deakin University.

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Andrew MacLeod
All articles by Greg Barns
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