U.S. Balks at World Court Independence

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Americans like their courts independent, but they're not as sure about international tribunals. As a month of negotiations gets under way in Rome today to create an International Court of Criminal Justice to prosecute human rights violations, the U.S. is pressing for U.N. Security Council veto power over the court. "Any U.S. administration that signs on to the court will have to confront Jesse Helms, who has made clear that unless the court is firmly under the control of a U.S. veto at the Security Council, it is 'dead on arrival,' " says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell.

The court would investigate, indict and prosecute human rights violators not prosecuted in their own countries, such as Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein. Washington -- backed by China, Russia and France -- wants a veto out fear that U.S. operations abroad could be compromised. Britain has broken ranks with the Security Council's Big Five: "The British realize that for the court to have any credibility it has to have equal justice rather than appear to be the strong countries zeroing in on the weak," says Dowell. But with a sticking point so fundamental, it's just as well that the talks are being hosted in the city that wasn't built in a day.