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Swiss pulls out of race for criminal court seat

Barbara Ott said she was disappointed but at the same time relieved swissinfo.ch

Switzerland's Barbara Ott has pulled out of the race to become a judge to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

This content was published on February 8, 2003 - 18:08

She said she withdrew her candidature after failing to garner enough support following 18 rounds of voting at the United Nations in New York.

The Swiss lawyer said the move was intended to "help the remaining candidates" and avoid a situation where nobody would be elected. "Somebody had to make a sacrifice," she said.

Both disappointed and relieved, Ott commented that she had "lived for the last three days on tenterhooks while waiting for the results from New York".

Despite her personal setback, she wished the court and its judges well for the future.

"I say good luck to all the judges and I hope they will have the opportunity to prove their capacity and ability to make the world a better place," Ott told swissinfo.

From the outset she was modest about her chances, even though she said Switzerland had been instrumental in getting the ICC off the ground.

Del Ponte

Attention is now turning to another Swiss, Carla Del Ponte, and whether she will now apply to become a prosecutor to the ICC. The Swiss foreign ministry refused to comment on the issue.

Del Ponte is currently chief prosecutor for two International Criminal Tribunals - one for former Yugoslavia and the other for Rwanda.

Stiff competition

The Swiss foreign ministry said it regretted that Ott had not been selected but stressed that the competition - Ott was among 43 candidates for 18 available positions - had been tough.

Ott was a candidate with a high reputation both at home and abroad, political analyst Julian Hottinger told swissinfo.

She started her career by specialising in criminal law and worked as an investigating magistrate in Neuchâtel.

After being appointed as a military judge, she spent six months in 1995 Rwanda investigating war crimes on behalf of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

In 1999 Ott was in charge of logistics and the witness protection programme in Lausanne during the trial of Fulgence Nygonteze, who was the first person to be tried outside of Africa for genocide in Rwanda.

Election procedure

Of the 18 judges to be appointed, half will be elected to serve on a permanent basis and the others will serve on an ad hoc basis - only being called to The Hague when required.

Lots will be drawn to decide which category each of the judges falls into.

Furthermore, to avoid all positions becoming vacant at the same time, one third of successful candidates will serve for three years, one third for six years and one third for nine years.

Only those serving for three years will be eligible for re-election.

Credibility

Questions have been raised over the jurisdiction of the court, with several countries - most notably the United States - refusing to ratify the necessary treaties.

Washington has also put pressure on countries to grant US citizens immunity from prosecution.

Some European Union member states have already indicated that they would be willing to comply with the US's wishes.

Far from interpreting such moves as an initial weakness of the court, Hottinger believes it needs time to establish itself.

"There are many countries that believe - and Switzerland is among them - that the US should come in on the same terms as everyone else," he said.

"But the ICC is just getting started and hopefully, given time, the US will become a full member once they see it is working."

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Currently 88 countries are signatories to the International Criminal Court.
Switzerland put forward Barbara Ott as a candidate in September 2002.
Only half of the 18 judges will be serve on a permanent basis.
The ICC will be based in The Hague in the Netherlands.
A prosecutor for the ICC will be elected in April 2003.

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