III- Continued ambiguity for Paris

06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.

The French ambiguity is nothing new, even if it is weaker today than in times past. The story of its cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) provides a remarkable summary. In 1993, French diplomats successfully lobbied for the adoption of the United Nations Security Council resolutions which set up the ICTY, whose creation ushered in international justice as it is known today. Fours year after that historic initiative, French Defence Minister Alain Richard boisterously declared to the newspaper Le Monde that it was out of the question for French officers to testify before "that circus". He feared that an aggressive strategy on the part of the ICTY Prosecutor would result in reprisals against his men in the field. He shared the same fears as the Comptroller General of the Armed Forces who, as early as 1996, warned in Défense Nationale magazine against the danger in the International Courts that French soldiers involved in peacekeeping operations could be "indicted in the media before their trials even begin".

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France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.