The United States and several European countries are once again on a collision course at the United Nations, as Washington maneuvers to renew controversial provisions that shield its troops from prosecution for war crimes.
The US is trying to keep its troops beyond the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court whenever they participate in international peace-keeping operations.
The Security Council is set to vote as early as tomorrow on a US-drafted resolution that will extend for another 12 months a one-year exemption for American soldiers serving as UN peace-keepers. The text is likely to be adopted, but not without extensive grumbling.
Tensions over the issue have been escalating sharply. Last week, Washington accused European governments of undermining its efforts to negotiate bilateral agreements with foreign governments, under which those governments would individually undertake not to use the new court to prosecute US soldiers.
In a formal diplomatic letter, Washington accused EU governments of lobbying states not to accept its appeals for bilateral agreements. "This will undercut all our efforts to repair and rebuild the transatlantic relationship just as we are taking a turn for the better after a number of difficult months," the letter states. A copy of the note was obtained by The Washington Post.
Diplomats predict that the new UN resolution, which is the same as the one passed amid much controversy a year ago, will be passed, precisely because of a desire not to reopen wounds inflicted in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But France and Germany, stalwart supporters of the tribunal, may register their disapproval by abstaining.
Some UN members not represented on the Security Council were pressing for a special open meeting of the Council at which any UN ambassador could speak. Tentatively scheduled for tomorrow, it would be an opportunity for governments to voice frustration with Washington. Supporters of the tribunal argue that special treatment for the US would weaken the court. Paul Heinbecker, Canada's ambassador to the UN, who is among those calling for the open session, said: "We would like to have the opportunity to register our support for the court.We see it as bringing accountability to the worst tyrants and the perpetrators of the crime."
The new court will have jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed after 1 July 2002. It was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1998 and a total of 90 nations have so far ratified the treaty, while 139 have signed it.
The US at first signed it under Bill Clinton, the former president, but the Bush administration then rescinded it. The tribunal is set to begin working later this year.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd