Published on Monday, June 9, 2003 by OneWorld.net
U.S. Seeks Exemption from War Crimes Court
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - With U.S. troops deployed in more countries than ever, the Bush administration is pressing the UN Security Council to exempt all U.S. troops and officials from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court (ICC) for a second straight year.
Washington says it needs more time to negotiate bilateral agreements with more countries around the world that would bar them from surrendering U.S. nationals to the Court, which has just begun operations in the Hague.
The ICC was set up to investigate and prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
So far, 37 countries have reportedly signed such a agreements, although only a handful have ratified them. The most important include Israel, India, Egypt, Romania, and the Philippines; most of the rest are small, poor countries that are heavily dependent on external aid, including U.S. military assistance.
Human rights groups and Washington's NATO allies have strongly resisted the Bush administration's efforts--through both the Security Council and bilateral negotiations with weaker nations--to gain exemptions for its troops and officials, arguing that they will undermine the ICC itself, as well as international law in general.
Last year, Washington asked the Council to approve a complete, indefinite exemption from the Court's jurisdiction for U.S. nationals, and even threatened to veto the renewal of UN peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and elsewhere if it did not get its way. But other Council members, particularly those associated with the European Union (EU), refused to go along.
After two weeks of intense and often bitter negotiations, the two sides compromised by approving a resolution that granted a one-year exemption for all individuals from countries that had not ratified the Rome Statute. While former President Bill Clinton signed the Statute in the last days of his term, he did not refer it to the Senate for ratification, and the Bush administration formally renounced his signature in May 2002.
Washington has argued that the ICC, which is likely to hear its first case early next year, gives too much discretion to prosecutors who may bring cases against U.S. officials for political reasons. With some 150,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq, another 9,000 in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands more in scores of countries across Eurasia and in and around the Gulf, Washington is worried that it will become a prime target for politicized prosecutions. Rights groups and European governments, including Britain, however, say these fears are greatly exaggerated.
Now Washington is trying to extend the Security Council's exemption for yet another year. Last week, US Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte told the Associated Press that the U.S. would like "a technical extension...of the resolution. It's very straightforward," he said. "We wouldn't introduce any substantive changes into the resolution we adopted last year by unanimity in the Council, and we would assume--certainly hope--that this would receive overwhelming support."
Human rights groups, however, are expected to lobby Council members to reject any extension. Richard Dicker of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that simply approving the extension would "increase the chance of its becoming a permanent fixture." The rights groups and government backers of the ICC argue that the Security Council lacks the legal authority to grant exemptions because the UN Charter does not grant it power to amend an international treaty.
They want an open debate on the issue, and early indications are that Germany and Mexico will press for one. Of the 15 members of the Council, only the U.S., China and Pakistan have not signed the Statute. The other 12 have either signed or ratified it.
Canada, a major champion of the ICC, is also expected to request an open debate that would include non-Security Council members like itself. Last year, Canada led a move by several dozen countries to publicly condemn U.S. effort to seek exemptions for its citizens.
Washington wants a vote before July 1, when last year's resolution formally expires.
Between now and July 1, Washington is also expected to step up its efforts to gain new bilateral agreements, in part because under a law passed by Congress last year, countries which ratify the Statute will be banned from receiving U.S. military aid unless the president waives those sanctions before July 1.
This provision of the so-called 'American Service Members Protection Act' (ASPA) is likely to hit poor countries hardest, according to the NGO Coalition for the ICC, representing dozens of human rights groups around the world. The ICC exemption is only one of several controversial provisions in the ASPA, including one that authorizes the president to use deploy military force to free any U.S. citizen in the ICC's custody.
Representatives of many countries have complained that Washington's campaign against the ICC and its efforts to exempt U.S. nationals from its jurisdiction is yet another illustration of the unilateralist trajectory on which the Bush administration has taken U.S. foreign policy. They have warned that the U.S. attitude toward the ICC increases resentment abroad and makes Washington vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy about the rule of law.
A recent 20-country poll sponsored by the Washington-based Pew Global Attitudes Project found that Washington's image abroad has fallen sharply over the last two years. While support for U.S. political and cultural values remained generally high, according to the poll, which was conducted after the Iraq War, opposition to U.S. policies, including disdain for multilateral institutions and agreements, has risen steeply, particularly in Europe.
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