Forty-three of the world's poorest nations have caved in to American pressure and signed agreements not to send US citizens for trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was set up last year to hear allegations of crimes against humanity.
Governments that continue to defy America after its deadline expires tomorrow risk losing US military support and economic aid. Washington, which has forces deployed in more than 140 countries, is vehemently opposed to the ICC, arguing that US soldiers, officials and citizens will become targets for political reasons.
Although President Bill Clinton signed the treaty establishing the ICC, he was not able to persuade Congress to ratify it and President George Bush later rescinded his predecessor's signature.
A report published by Amnesty International shows that most of the 43 states that have already signed bilateral immunity treaties are heavily indebted to the United States.
Albania, Bolivia and Afghanistan are reliant on America for their military aid. Others, such as Tongo and the Marshall Islands, are dependent on trade with the US.
Critics of the American policy towards the ICC argue that the bilateral agreements will undermine the authority of the world's first permanent tribunal for hearing allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Amnesty International says that many countries have come under intense US pressure to sign bilateral agreements.
Amnesty's media director, Lesley Warner, said: "Less than 10 years after the horrific genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia- Herzegovina, the new International Criminal Court, which starts its second year tomorrow, offers great hope. That hope is that crimes committed on such a scale will increasingly be confined to the past and where they do occur justice will be done."
"The Court enjoys enormous support from the international community," Ms Warner said.
The court is authorised to deal with crimes committed after 1 July 2002, provided that either the accused are citizens of a country that has ratified the court's statute, or the alleged crimes were committed on the territory of a ratifying country.
BOWING TO THE US
Democratic Republic of Congo
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd