UNITED NATIONS -- More than 100 nations hailed the birth of the world's first International Criminal Court on Monday as a landmark for global justice, vowing that its mission to prosecute and deter future war criminals will not be sabotaged by U.S. opposition.
The new court's main targets are the future Pol Pots and Adolf Hitlers of the world. It will prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes on or after July 1.
The United States has opposed the court, fearing it could go after Americans in frivolous political prosecutions.
At the start of the final two-week meeting of the commission that has been preparing for the court's operation in The Hague, Netherlands, speakers from all continents hailed the historic entry into force of a 1998 Rome treaty establishing the court.
Many called it the greatest advance in international law since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials for World War II's German and Japanese war criminals.
"The past century witnessed the worst crimes in the history of mankind," said Denmark's U.N. Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Loj, speaking on behalf of the European Union.
"Yet few perpetrators have been brought to justice. Let us together establish a credible, fair and effective International Criminal Court which will serve as a deterrent -- as a signal that impunity will no longer be tolerated," she said.
Rome treaty signed
The Rome treaty won its 75th ratification Monday from Australia. It now has 139 signatures -- including the United States. Former President Clinton signed the treaty but the Bush administration announced in May that it wants nothing to do with the court. The U.S. seat was empty Monday.
Standing alone, and against its closest allies, the United States is demanding immunity from the court for American peacekeepers -- and is threatening to end the 1,500-strong U.N. police training mission in Bosnia at midnight Wednesday otherwise. The United States has also warned that all U.N. peacekeeping is at stake, which could have serious ramifications from the Middle East to Africa, Cyprus and Afghanistan. Mandates for four U.N. peacekeeping missions -- in Lebanon, Georgia, Western Sahara and the Croatian enclave of Prevlaka -- expire this month.
To emphasize its demand, the United States dramatically vetoed a Security Council resolution Sunday night to extend the Bosnian police mission as well as authorization for the 18,000-strong NATO-led force in the country. But two hours later, Washington agreed to a 72-hour extension to give more time for talks -- and for preparations to shut down the mission if necessary.