Middle East war crimes trials unlikely, says international law expert

As an envoy of Pope Benedict prepares to leave for Lebanon to pray for peace, an international law expert from the Catholic University Louvain in Belgium has said that neither Israel nor Hezbollah are likely to face trial over allegations of war crimes during the four weeks of conflict.

"There is no jurisdiction of an international criminal court (in this case)," said Jan Wouters, Professor of International Law at the Catholic University Leuven, according to a Times of Malta report.

"The first type of trial will be in the court of public opinion but the problem is that public opinion doesn't have the tools and the information to really judge whether war crimes are actually committed," he said.

He was responding to a call by the son of Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Israeli leaders for the deadly attack on a residential building in which up to 28 civilians were killed in the biblical town of Qana.

The Security Council can refer cases in non-member states to the ICC - as it did for the first time last year in the case of suspected crimes in Sudan's Darfur. But Washington would probably veto any attempt at referral of its close ally Israel, the Times of Malta said.

Meanwhile, Ansa reports that French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray has been dispatchd by Pope Benedict on a mission to Lebanon to express the Pope's "spiritual nearness and real solidarity" to the people of Lebanon.

Although the Vatican stressed that the Cardinal's mission had an "essentially religious character," sources said he might meet Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora and President Nabih Berri.

A statement issued by the Vatican said that "if possible," the prelate will celebrate mass tomorrow at a Catholic shrine in Harissa alongside the leader of the Lebanese Maronite church.

At the same time, senior Catholic figures in the Israeli city of Nazareth will also pray for peace in the region, Vatican sources said.

Cardinal Etchegaray, 84, the former head of the Vatican's justice and peace department was also sent to Baghdad in 2003 in a last-ditch attempt by the Vatican to prevent war.

Pope to send envoy to Lebanon
International trial unlikely for Israel, Hizbollah (Times of Malta, 14/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Research Unit International and Foreign Law at the Catholic University Leuven | KUL
Caritas Australia

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14 Aug 2006