OT: America shouldn't fear international courts, new judge says

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Feb 16, 2000 - 01:15 PM

America Shouldn't Fear International Courts, New Judge Says By Jerome Socolovsky Associated Press Writer

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) - Judge Patricia Wald saw her fair share of strife through 20 years of high-profile litigation at the federal appeals court in Washington.

Her cases dealt with Kenneth Starr's alleged grand jury leaks to the press, former White House aide Oliver L. North's Iran-Contra felony conviction, the Microsoft antitrust suit, and a series of proceedings arising from the Watergate scandal.

But when her first trial at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal gets under way later this month, Wald will have to grapple with accusations of systematic rape, torture and massacres committed as part of the bloody "ethnic cleansing" campaigns in the Balkans.

"Some of my friends said: 'You're going from one war tribunal to another,'" she recalled Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press in her office at the U.N. court.

The tribunal was set up seven years ago by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute suspected war criminals from the conflicts that followed the fragmentation of Yugoslavia in 1991.

Wald joined the 14-judge court in November, succeeding Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, who returned to the United States after six years on the bench.

A Connecticut native and Yale Law School graduate, Wald has practiced law since 1952. In 1979, President Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Despite the occasional lighthearted remark, Wald describes her mission here with utmost seriousness. Nothing less than the promise of universal human rights protection, enshrined in international treaties, is at stake, she believes.

"If all of the Hague conventions and Geneva conventions are really going to mean anything, there has to be some kind of enforcement mechanism," she said.

Her first war crimes trial, scheduled to begin Feb. 28, will be the case of Miroslav Kvocka and several other alleged commanders and guards of the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje prison camps in northwestern Bosnia, where inmates were raped, tortured, beaten and murdered.

As one of the tribunal's two female judges, she said she can bring a different perspective to the trials, much in the same way she did in sex discrimination suits at the federal court.

"I think there are some cases, and they don't always have to be sex discrimination cases, where your particular insights or particular experience as a woman will add something or will give you a different lens through which to see the case," she said.

But, she added, "all the members of the court are sensitized to this whole aspect of the particular unique abuses that women often suffer when they get caught in the middle of one of these turmoils. It's an added aspect of endangerment for them."

Like many judges and legal experts, Wald sees the Yugoslav tribunal as a precursor to a permanent international court with jurisdiction to punish perpetrators of atrocities anywhere in the world. The United States was one of the few countries to oppose the International Criminal Court when its proposed statute was drafted at a 1998 conference in Rome.

Wald understands why some Americans might find it "a little scary" that, at least in theory, U.S. servicemen accused of abuses could be hauled before the proposed court.

But she feels the Clinton administration and vehement opponents of the court, such as South Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, exaggerate the potential for political vendettas against the United States or American soldiers, "unless they really did commit something terribly bad."

"These tribunals are so busy, believe me, they're not going to go looking for somebody who's really on the margins," she said. "And the fact that they're international tribunals means they can't be dominated by some nation that's mad at the United States."

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), February 16, 2000


What is scary is that an American judge appointed to the court cannot understand why the sovereignty of the US needs to be upheld. I don't care how busy they are, they will get around to us if they are allowed to! And what happens when a majority of the international tribunal is mad at the US?

-- Just Curious (jnmpow@flash.net), February 16, 2000.

Thanks. I'll accept law based on the U.S. constitution only. I'm sure the courts will be made up of the same sort of people who went after the South African Government during aparthied while ignoring massacres in other African nations North of South Africa. While aparthied is a condemable policy, it doesn't stack against murder of innocent civilians. Why was the problem of apartheid given priority over mass murder? Until I know the answer to that question I'll shy away from world courts and the sorts who are calling for them.

Watch six and keep your...

-- eyes_open (best@wishes.2all), February 16, 2000.

Jimmy Carter- CFR, Trilateral Commission, Bilderburger- signed away Panama Canal- appointed this judge. Oh yeah, NAFTA, GATT

-- KoFE (your@town.USA), February 16, 2000.

This type of story sends chills down my back. There is absolutely NO justification for American participation in these kinds of tribunals. Worse still, the prospect of Americans being hauled before these alleged "justices" means only that our rights as American citizens are being further diluted and otherwise diminished.

I can see it now...Americans being arrested as War Criminals for refusing to surrender their guns.

To hell with global law and world courts. I stand by my United States Constitution.

-- Irving (irvingf@myremarq.com), February 16, 2000.

I wonder whether the judge or Jerome, the writer, put Jesse Helms into SOUTH Carolina.

-- W (me@home.now), February 16, 2000.

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