LONDON - June 7 - Britain should not rally behind U.S. demands for the renewal of a U.N. Security Council resolution that grants U.S. troops serving in U.N. forces immunity from international war crimes prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said today. The United States recently demanded a vote to renew contentious Security Council Resolution 1487, although the resolution does not require renewal until July.
At a time when U.S. troops have been exposed for abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has insisted that its troops be exempt from war crimes prosecutions by the International Criminal Court (ICC) while serving in any U.N. force. The current resolution up for renewal, Resolution 1487, grants immunity from ICC prosecution to personnel serving in U.N. authorized or approved operations if they are from states that have not ratified the ICC treaty, including the United States and Iraq. Concurrently, the United States is pushing for another U.N. resolution that would establish the mandate for a multinational force in Iraq ahead of the planned handover of Iraqi sovereignty on June 30.
Britain looks set to break ranks with its colleagues in the European Union by voting with the United States, and thus against the ICC. Some reports suggest that the United Kingdom is pressuring Romania, which has publicly stated its intention to abstain from the vote, to change its decision to a vote in favor of the resolution so that the United Kingdom is not the only ICC state party supporting the U.S. resolution.
"The United Kingdom played a positive role when the ICC was first created," said Steve Crawshaw, London director of Human Rights Watch. "That makes it doubly depressing that Britain is now playing such a destructive role on Washington's behalf."
Human Rights Watch said that the U.S. government wanted to obtain the renewal of this resolution undermining the ICC as soon as possible so that the controversial issue would not overshadow its efforts to win Security Council backing for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities on June 30. However, the vote was postponed indefinitely due to lack of support for the resolution within the Security Council.
"Opposition to the resolution is gaining momentum," said Crawshaw. "Last year, three countries abstained from voting for the resolution, and this year that number will grow. The United Kingdom should not be on the wrong side of this vote."
Human Rights Watch opposes Resolution 1487. By providing blanket immunity to an entire class of individuals without even referring to any specific investigation or prosecution, the resolution distorts the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the ICC. The Security Council has overstepped its authority under the U.N. Charter by seeking to amend a multilateral treaty in this way. A similar resolution granting immunity to U.S. peacekeepers was first adopted in July 2002, and was renewed by Resolution 1487 last year.
The ICC is a court of last resort that can only exert jurisdiction where national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute. Credible U.S. war crimes trials or courts-martial would preclude the ICC prosecutor from taking up cases against U.S. military personnel.
"The ICC can only prosecute the most serious crimes where national courts fail to punish those responsible," said Crawshaw. "It is time for the United States to demonstrate that it will abide by international standards and has nothing to fear from the ICC."
The ICC, based in The Hague, has broad international support. Currently, 94 countries have ratified the Rome Statue establishing the court, including the United Kingdom, and nearly 140 have signed the treaty. Last year, these countries elected the court's first 18 judges and prosecutor. The court's first investigations, into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are expected to begin this year.
For more information on Human Rights Watch's work on the International Criminal Court, see http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/icc/