Published on Friday, August 1, 2003 by Inter Press Service
U.S. Seeks War Crimes Exemption for Liberia Peacekeepers
by Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS - Washington is asking that if its peacekeepers are sent to Liberia they be exempted from prosecution for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
''Insisting that peacekeeping forces should have immunity from international law and crimes as a condition to enforce international law is grotesque and irresponsible,'' said William R. Pace, convener of the Coalition, Thursday.
''What is essential is to authorize international forces to enforce the ceasefire and to begin to save the lives of civilians and allow life to be breathed into a dying nation,'' he told reporters.
Pace said that many members of the group believe that the reign of violence and the criminal victimization of civilian populations in Liberia deserved international community protection thousands of lives ago.
Coalition members believe that government and rebel military forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute of the ICC and other international law, he added.
''It is therefore particularly disturbing that the proposed Security Council resolution from the United States government authorizing a multi-national force ... includes a provision that would also violate these treaties and international laws,'' Pace said.
The proposed U.N. force, which is expected to be approved by the 15-member Security Council next week, is not likely to move into Liberia until the end of August or early September, primarily due to logistical reasons.
Since the deployment will be delayed, the Security Council is expected to simultaneously approve the creation of a regional peacekeeping force made up of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters Thursday that the proposed U.S. clause on war crimes by peacekeepers has never been included in U.N. peacekeeping resolutions.
''Besides, my own view, is that the kind of crimes that we are talking about have never occurred with U.N. peacekeepers -- they have never been anywhere near there,'' said Annan.
While Washington has been roundly condemned for not moving troops into the West African nation sooner, non-government organizations (NGOs) have criticized its draft resolution for various reasons.
Nicola Reindorp, Oxfam's U.N. representative, said Thursday the current draft risks being ''fatally flawed''.
''If Liberia's civilians are to be effectively protected, the draft resolution must be immediately amended."
Reindorp said that simply providing peacekeepers with a mandate to use force -- while critically important -- would mean little without clear and specific parameters on how that force should be applied.
''Peacekeeping missions risk failure when commanders do not have explicit Security Council directions about the steps they must take to adequately protect civilians,'' she said. ''The people of Liberia can't afford a vague mandate that lacks any guideposts for measuring success.''
Despite a public plea by Annan that the peacekeeping force in Liberia be led by the United States, U.S. President George W. Bush has indicated he will provide only logistical and financial support for such a U.N. mission.
''Any commitments we make would be limited in size and limited in tenure,'' Bush told reporters in mid-July.
The Washington-based Heritage Foundation, which has close political and ideological ties to the White House, warned the Bush administration last week to keep away from Liberia.
''U.S. troops, who are trained and equipped to fight and win wars, don't make good peacekeepers,'' wrote Heritage analyst Jack Spencer.
He said that a Liberian mission ''could drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the defense budget, and jeopardize other important national security requirements''.
Spencer described peacekeeping operations as ''quagmires that cost more than expected, especially when measured in American blood, and usually achieve very little in the long run''.
The 1,500-strong ECOWAS contingent, led by Nigeria, is hampered by financial and logistical problems even before it can get off the ground.
Washington, which is spending about 3.9 billion dollars every month in its military occupation of Iraq, has offered only 10 million dollars to the force, which will also include troops from Senegal, Mali and Ghana.
At a U.N. press conference Wednesday, Annan told reporters that West African leaders had made it clear that they would be prepared to send in troops only if they received financial and logistical support.
The nations have two battalions ready to go probably by early next week. ''From what I gather,'' said Annan, ''discussions are going on for them to get some assistance.''
Annan said the Nigerians have complained that the 10 million dollars offered by Washington is ''not enough''.
In anticipation of the problem, he told the Security Council last week that he should be authorized to advance money from U.N. peacekeeping funds to support the ECOWAS force. But the Council has not responded.
Annan is also planning to move at least one battalion from the U.N. mission in neighboring Sierra Leone, which has troop strength of over 13,000, to Liberia.
The United States has also warned that its support will be conditioned on the departure of Liberian leader Charles Taylor before peacekeeping troops arrive in Monrovia.
Washington has two warships off the coast of Monrovia with a contingent of marines ready to evacuate Americans and foreigner.
In a report released Thursday, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said stocks of food and fuel appear to be diminishing, making the situation critical in the Liberian capital.
OCHA said there were also reports of looting of commercial food stocks. ''The whereabouts of 9,000 tons of food in a U.N. World Food Program warehouse remained unknown, and fuel shortages severely hampered the ability of humanitarian agencies to truck water supplies to those in need.''
Copyright 2003 IPS