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Parliament paves way for Swiss to join international court

The jurisdiction of the International War Crimes Tribunal is limited to Rwanda and former Yugoslavia

(Keystone Archive)

The House of Representatives has approved a government proposal for Switzerland to become a member of the planned International Court of Justice.

The House on Tuesday came out in favour of joining the international court by 135 to 26 votes. It rejected calls by the right-wing Swiss People's Party to put the issue to a nationwide vote.

The Senate has still to discuss the proposals.

The court, to be based in The Hague, will have jurisdiction on cases of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. More than 130 countries have already approved the setting up of the court, and so far 29 of them have ratified the membership documents.

At least 60 countries must formally ratify their membership of the court, before it can become operational.

The court will only rule on a complementary basis, for instance if the justice system in a member country is not functioning properly.

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, reiterated that membership of the court would benefit Switzerland's reputation in the world and help to promote human rights.

He added that the government wanted to have a say in the election of judges to the court.

Opponents, mainly from the right-wing People's Party warned that membership of the Court would infringe upon Swiss law, and called for a mandatory nationwide ballot on the issue, but were voted down.

The International Court of Justice would be distinct from the existing International War Crimes Tribunal, whose jurisdiction is limited to the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Switzerland's Carla del Ponte is chief prosecutor of the tribunal.

by Urs Geiser


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