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World

Hans-Peter Kaul - First German Judge at War Crimes Court

German diplomat and law expert Hans-Peter Kaul has been elected to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. As Germany's negotiator for the ICC, Kaul has been a strong advocate for an independent court.

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Moving to the Hague

Hans-Peter Kaul will be the one German among 18 judges to be sworn in by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on March 11 to preside at the world's first permanent criminal court. Kaul was elected to the position on Friday at United Nations headquarters in New York. He received 57 out of a possible 85 votes.

The 59-year-old career diplomat and expert in humanitarian law has helped shape the ICC on the behalf of Germany. He has been a long-time supporter of the idea of the tribunal as a venu to try individuals before a court of law for crimes against humanity that states are unwilling or unable to try themselves.

Diplomat Lawyer

Born in 1943, Kaul completed his first law degree in Heidelberg in 1971 before going on to study in Cambridge, Paris and the Hague. He then returned to Heidelberg, where he passed his bar exam in 1975.

Although trained as a jurist, Kaul entered the diplomatic corps shortly after completing his studies, serving in consulates in Norway, Tel Aviv and Washington before becoming First Counselor at Germany's mission to the United Nations in 1993.

Kaul has worked toward the establishment of the court since 1996, when he was involved with preparations leading up to the Rome Statute, the 1998 agreement that sets out the court's jurisdiction, structure and functions. He remained head of Germany's Office for Public International Law even as the government changed hands in 1998, much to the delight of nongovernmental organizations involved in the ICC project, since many saw in Kaul an engaged and cooperative partner who consistently worked toward designing an effective, independent and workable court. In 2002, Kaul accepted an appointment as the head of the Foreign Office's Commission for the ICC.

The jurist is married with four children and speaks German, English, French and Norwegian. His tenure in the Hague is expected to last three years.

Modelled on Nuremberg

The International Criminal Court is based on principles of the tribunals set up at the end of WWII to try German and Japanese leaders accused of gross violations of human rights. A total of 139 countries have signed the treaty creating the court, with 88 ratifying it so far.

Although the newly elected judges, eleven men and seven women, will be sworn in in March, the key task of naming a prosecutor will not begin until April 21. A fully functioning staff is not expected to be in place until the end of summer. When the court does begin operations, its task will be to try some of the world's most egregious crimes, such as mass murder, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It will only be able to try cases for crimes that were committed after July 1, 2002.

One notable absence from the ICC's list of supporters is the United States, which has never been very comfortable with the idea behind the international body, even under the Clinton administration. George W. Bush has spurned the court, withdrawing his predecessor's signature from the treaty and arguing that the court could be used for political ends, with malicious prosecutors bringing charges against U.S. peacekeepers or soldiers.