REPORTER: Irene Ulman

It was a slow and difficult labour.

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But, after years of legal and political wrangling, the International Criminal Court was finally born. The statute to establish the court was adopted in July 1998. In April this year, after being ratified by more than 60 states, it became a reality.

KOFI ANNAN, UN SECRETARY-GENERAL: The long-held dream of a permanent International Criminal Court will now be realised. Impunity has been dealt a decisive blow.

The idea of an international criminal court had been fostered for more than three centuries and found its way into several international treaties. Frozen during the Cold War, it was revived when the fall of the Berlin Wall triggered a climate change in global politics.

KRSTIC JUDGMENT (INTERPRETER): In July 1995, General Krstic, you agreed to evil.

The conviction of General Krstic for genocide was a triumph for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Ten more genocide verdicts have been handed down by the Tribunal for Rwanda. But the ad hoc model of international justice may not be repeated.

SIR NINIAN STEPHEN: Apart from anything else, it`s not at all easy to create an ad hoc tribunal. Of course, they`re very expensive.

Sir Ninian Stephen was a judge on the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Three years ago, he produced a report for the United Nations, recommending such a tribunal to deal with the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

SIR NINIAN STEPHEN: There has been a prolonged series of negotiations as far as Cambodia was concerned. As we`ve seen in recent months, the negotiations have really come to nothing so far and I`d be very surprised to see any further ad hoc tribunals.

Unlike the tribunals, the new court is the first permanent international body able to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It`s been hailed by many as the only way to deal with serious crimes that would otherwise go unpunished. But, there are some notable exceptions. In the course of the negotiations, the United States lost its bid to control the court through the UN Security Council. Nevertheless, Bill Clinton chose to stay in the game and sign the treaty, one of his last acts as president. But the Bush Administration was in no mood to play along.

PIERRE PROSPER, US AMBASSADOR, WAR CRIMES: For us, we look at this from our national interests, or our national security interests and we`ve made a decision that the ICC treaty, as it stands, is not for us.

On May 6 this year, the US nullified its signature to the treaty. It said the ICC undermined the UN Security Council, its independent prosecutor was a wildcard, it threatened US sovereignty and it was open to political exploitation. David Scheffer led the talks and signed the treaty on behalf of the Clinton administration. He`s alarmed by the new mood of unilateralism in Washington.

DAVID SCHEFFER: I think the linkage between the pre-emptive strike doctrine of the Bush Administration and its withdrawal as a signatory from the International Criminal Court is a linkage that goes to the heart of international law. Both decisions are challenging very significant evolution in international law over the last 50 years.

David Scheffer accepts the concern for the security of American soldiers, but says there are safeguards in the treaty that would make prosecution extremely unlikely. He is worried the Bush Administration has abandoned the court at high risk to American soldiers.

DAVID SCHEFFER: There is a very intense debate going on right now among negotiators about how to define the crime of aggression. The United States was always at the table in those debates. Now that we have walked out of this process, we don`t even appear in the room, and therefore American soldiers are going to be subjected to a definition of aggression in the future that the United States did not participate in defining.

On 1 July, the ICC treaty will come into force, with or without the United States. The question remains – will America`s hostility affect the court`s work in the future?

ICC Backgrounder