BOGOTA - The non-governmental Colombian Commission of Jurists spoke out Tuesday
against a potential agreement that would allow the United States to deny the jurisdiction
of the International Criminal Court (ICC) over U.S. soldiers acting on Colombian
The Commission of Jurists, a humanitarian group of experts that holds consultative
status at the United Nations, says signing such an agreement would foment impunity,
violate the principle of equality under the law, and undermine the integrity of
the ICC, which was officially installed Jul 1 at The Hague.
The jurists issued a warning to the Alvaro Uribe government that an accord
like the one proposed Aug 15 by Marc Grossman, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for
Political Affairs, violates the international commitments Colombia has signed,
particularly the Rome Statute, which gave rise to the ICC.
The United States has hundreds of military trainers and an unknown number
of other armed forces personnel in Colombia as part of joint efforts to fight
illicit drug production (mostly cocaine, but also heroin and marijuana) and to
combat insurgent groups.
In his brief visit to Colombia, Grossman stated that the accord would be signed
taking into account Article 98 of the Rome Statute, which dates to a 1998 UN special
Article 98, said the U.S. official, would allow a country like Colombia, which
ratified the treaty earlier this year, and the United States, which has not, to
work together to protect its citizens from future trials under the ICC.
But the Commission of Jurists states in a letter sent Tuesday to President
Uribe that the United States -- upon invoking Article 98 of the Rome Statute --
"disregards the fact that this norm is applicable exclusively to the countries
party to the treaty that created the Court."
The legal experts' interpretation is that this article "is structured within
the principle of complementarity" that governs the ICC, created as a forum to
try those accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity when these
are not covered by the laws in the country in which they were perpetrated.
"Through this mechanism, member countries are granted priority for investigation
and proceedings, such that the governments have the opportunity to act when any
of their citizens are accused of committing a crime under the jurisdiction of
the ICC," Gustavo Gallón, head of the Commission of Jurists, told IPS.
The Commission's letter also states that Article 98 was conceived with the
aim that the states party to the ICC have a common process for handling suspects,
which implies that it is applicable only to the countries that ratified the Rome
Statute, which the United States did not.
"This clearly suggests that the article applies only to states that have ratified
the statute and which cooperate with the Court," says the Commission.
As such, a country that upholds the ICC should not hand over a citizen suspected
of committing a crime covered by the ICC to a country that has not ratified the
Rome treaty, according to the attorneys.
Gallón commented that the United States, with its proposed accord, does
not recognize the objective nor the aim of the Rome Statute, which are fundamentally
related to the need "to bring to trial those who are responsible for the gravest
crimes in order to put an end to impunity and prevent such crimes from being committed."
The jurist added that Uribe, who was sworn in Aug 7, should uphold the position
taken by the administration of his predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, at the Jul
10 meeting of the UN Security Council.
Pastrana's envoy told the Security Council that the U.S. petition seeking
immunity for its troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina runs counter to the Rome Statute,
and therefore against international law.
Gallón further believes that Washington's proposal -- especially given
the alarming state of impunity prevailing in Colombia -- "would only exacerbate
the human rights situation, because it means authorizing any U.S. citizen to carry
out acts of genocide or commit war crimes in this country."
A group of nearly 70 Colombian personalities gathered Sunday to sign another
letter addressed to President Uribe, urging him to respect the terms of the Rome
In the text, the signers state that the United States, Colombia and all countries
must work to strengthen the ICC, given that no nation is exempt from being the
victim of terrorist acts or of having terrorist citizens.
Colombia's Foreign Minister Carolina Barco told a Senate commission here Tuesday
that a high-level government team is studying the legality of the U.S. request.
Barco assured that the Uribe administration will respect the international
commitments it has made.
But some political analysts say that if Colombia does not sign the proposal
presented by Grossman, the country risks losing the financial and military assistance
the United States is providing for the fight against illicit drugs production
and against insurgent groups here.
The United States has earmarked 1.3 billion dollars for "Plan Colombia", an
anti-drugs pro-development initiative drawn up by Pastrana. Seventy percent of
that sum is in the form of military aid, and, say peace and human rights groups,
has contributed towards the escalation of the decades-old civil war.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said his government will not pressure
nations receiving its assistance to sign the immunity accord that protects U.S.
troops, but warned that the law authorizes Washington to cut funds to those who
do not sign the proposed agreement.
© 2002 Inter Press Service