ICC looks at war crimes case against N. Korea

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ICC looks at war crimes case against N. Korea

NEW YORK - The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court indicated yesterday that its review of North Korea’s recent attacks against South Korea will take time.

A day earlier, the ICC said on its Web site that it opened a preliminary examination of the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island late last month and the sinking of the warship Cheonan in March to see whether the two cases constitute war crimes subject to its investigation.

When asked at a news conference at United Nations headquarters in New York when the court will decide if it has a case, ICC chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo replied, “When we are sure that we have to dismiss the situation or open (an investigation).”

According to those with knowledge of the ICC, the court has been reviewing a case involving Palestine since 2008 yet is still in the preliminary stage, as the case involves the difficult question of whether Palestine is an independent state.

“We have to be sure what to do,” said Moreno-Ocampo. “We cannot make mistakes.”

The ICC, founded in 2002 under the Rome Statute, is the world’s first permanent tribunal to hold people responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. South Korea is among its 114 members.

While disclosing the opening of the preliminary examination, the ICC said it was prompted by appeals from sources it did not identify.

Moreno-Ocampo, however, told reporters that the appeals came from South Korean citizens, not its government.

“We received no official communication,” he said. “(South) Korean citizens sent us communications. Students sent us communications.”

The shelling of the island near the maritime border in the Yellow Sea on Nov. 23 killed two South Korean soldiers and two civilians. In the Cheonan sinking in March, 46 sailors were killed.

Song Sang-hyun, president of the ICC, said if the court concludes that either of the two cases is a war crime and pursues an arrest warrant against those responsible - possibly North Korean leader Kim Jong-il - it could cause real trouble for the people indicted.

“The arrest warrant by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor is not limited by either statute of limitations or immunity,” he told reporters. “Because it stays effective until the person (the warrant was issued against) dies, it could impose enormous stress on the person, despite lack of force to execute the warrant.”

If a person is ordered arrested by the ICC, member countries are required to arrest the person when he or she stays in the country or passes through.

North Korea is not an ICC member, but the ICC’s jurisdiction reaches beyond its member countries when the alleged crime happens in a member country.

By Jung Kyung-min, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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