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U.S. Faces Intense Criticism Over Global Court
Published on Wednesday, July 10, 2002 by Reuters
U.S. Faces Intense Criticism Over Global Court
by Evelyn Leopold
 
UNITED NATIONS - Arguing that peacekeepers are not above the law, Canada said on Wednesday the U.N. Security Council did not have the power to rewrite treaties so Washington could get immunity for its soldiers from the world's first permanent criminal court.


The U.S. proposals would send an unacceptable message that some people -- peacekeepers -- are above the law.

Paul Heinbecker
Canadian Ambassador to the UN
Canadian Ambassador Paul Heinbecker called a public council debate so any countries could challenge the Bush administration and tell the 15 council members to reject weakening the International Criminal Court.

And they did, from New Zealand to South Africa and Jordan to Brazil. Only India took Washington's side, with its ambassador, V.K. Nambiar, saying the council should give "careful consideration" to the views of countries contributing troops.

At issue is Washington's threat to end peacekeeping in Bosnia and everywhere else, if all civilian and military personnel, even those not under direct U.N. jurisdiction, are not exempt from prosecution from the court, which came into existence on July 1.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte gave no hint the United States had modified its position to have all peacekeepers in Bosnia immune from the court's jurisdiction for as long as the U.N. mission exists.

Otherwise, he said "it certainly will affect our ability to contribute peacekeepers." With few U.S. combat troops in U.N. missions, the bigger danger is Congress cutting off peacekeeping funds, thereby closing down most missions.

The court, the first global permanent tribunal to try individuals for genocide, war crimes and systematic, gross human rights abuses, is a belated effort to fulfill the promise of the Nuremberg trials 56 years ago, when Nazi leaders were prosecuted for new categories of war crimes.

Britain, France and others have considered a 12-month deferral of immunity from prosecution under Article 16 of the court's statutes, depending on the wording. They are waiting for the U.S. to offer a revised proposal but so far Washington wants immunity for as long as the Bosnia mission exists.

"But even if the council goes this way, it raises serious questions," said French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte. He said "we must not take hostage" the 16 U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world.

But Canada's Heinbecker said even a 12-month exemption for the reasons the United States raised was illegal. The negotiating history of Article 16 makes clear exemptions can only be given on a case-by-case basis, such as during peace negotiations, he said.

The U.S. proposals would "send an unacceptable message that some people -- peacekeepers -- are above the law," he said.

No vote was planned for Wednesday. However, the Security Council has to make a decision by Monday.

Six of the 15 council members are among the 76 nations that have ratified a 1998 Rome treaty setting up the court. All others, except China and Singapore, have signed the pact.

Referring to the Holocaust museum in Washington, Jordan's U.N. ambassador, Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, said the artifacts showed "shamefully just how primordial we human beings still are." For the council to consider anything else but how to assist the court "is to offer comfort to those criminals of tomorrow," he said.

But the Bush administration argues that countries could use the court to try American soldiers or political figures for war crimes and jeopardize U.S. sovereignty.

Supporters of the court say there are so many safeguards, they fear few cases will come before the tribunal. The court, can only prosecute individuals whose governments are unable or unwilling to do so.

Washington wants a more blanket exemption, rejecting bilateral agreements as insufficient.

The Bosnia operation was obviously chosen because it came up for renewal as the ICC treaty went into force. Otherwise the choice is peculiar as the NATO-led troops are not under U.N. command but are endorsed by the Security Council.

In addition, the Balkans are under the jurisdiction of an ad hoc Yugoslav war crimes U.N. tribunal, which takes precedent over the ICC and has fewer restrictions than the new court.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd

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