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International Criminal Court eyes role beyond war-crimes trials

Advocates want the ICC to help build a stronger international justice system. Will the Obama administration join the ICC?

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Although spurned by the United States, the International Criminal Court approaches its first review conference next year with several high-profile war-crimes prosecutions under its belt. More recently, the court grabbed headlines by issuing a warrant for the arrest of Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, over alleged war crimes committed in the country's Darfur region.

But the seven-year-old ICC faces stiff challenges in coming years, advocates say. Supporters of the court who gathered in New York this week – including its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo – say second thoughts by some countries that signed on to the court, and criticisms that the ICC only goes after rights violators in weak countries, are just part of the challenge.

More broadly, they say, the court must do more than try cases – namely, it must help build a stronger international justice system. As the high-profile cases that gave the court its notoriety fade, the ICC's purpose – ending impunity for war crimes – should expand to helping countries develop their own national court systems.

Resistance to the court is brewing, however, in regions that initially supported it, as in Africa, where the African Union recently said it would not honor the arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir. Moreover, controversy surrounding the court could build if some preliminary inquiries into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan – committed by both NATO troops and Taliban forces – are pushed further.

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