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U.S. Wants Another UN Exemption from Criminal Court
Published on Thursday, May 20, 2004 by Reuters
U.S. Wants Another UN Exemption from Criminal Court
by Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Bush administration wants the U.N. Security Council to renew on Friday a controversial resolution exempting American peacekeepers from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.

Although the resolution is expected to be adopted, diplomats expect opposition among the wider U.N. membership following the U.S. abuse of prisoners in Iraq and general complaints about American unilateralism.

Two years ago the same resolution was adopted unanimously after the United States threatened to veto U.N. peacekeeping missions, one by one. A year ago, three countries abstained.

This year at least four nations -- Brazil, Spain, Germany and France -- are expected to abstain. But U.S. officials are confident they will reach the minimum nine votes needed for adoption in the 15-nation council.

All 15 European Union nations are among the 94 nations who have ratified a 1998 Rome treaty creating the court and are financing most of its costs. But close U.S. ally Britain is expected to vote in favor.

Washington has signed bilateral agreements with 89 countries who promised not to prosecute American citizens as well as anyone under contract to the United States, said Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. ambassador John Negroponte.

Some of those who ratified the treaty also signed the agreement with the United States, which in some cases is tied to aid.

As the first permanent global criminal court, the ICC was set up to try perpetrators for the world's worst atrocities -- genocide, mass war crimes and systematic human rights abuses.

The tribunal went into operation in The Hague, Netherlands, this year and is investigating massacres in the Congo and by the brutal Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda.

The draft resolution, introduced by the United States on Wednesday, would place U.S. troops and officials serving in U.N.-approved-missions beyond the reach of the court.

Specifically, it would exempt "current or former officials" from prosecution or investigation if the individual comes from a country that did not ratify a 1998 Rome treaty that established the tribunal.

The United States argues it cannot put itself under the jurisdiction of a foreign court it did not authorize and says its many troops abroad would be open to politically motivated prosecutions.

Proponents of the court say that there are enough safeguards in its statutes to protect countries like the United States, which has a functioning judicial system that would take priority over egregious cases.

"It's outrageous, considering everything that has happened to U.S. armed forces in Iraq -- and then to flip it through with less than 48 hours notice," said Richard Dicker, a counsel with the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

In response Grenell said everyone knew Washington would attempt to renew the resolution before it expires next month.

"It certainly is not 48 hours notice. It was more like 48 months. No one should be surprised at the U.S. position on the International Criminal Court."

Of the 15 Security Council members, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Romania and Benin are among the 94 nations whose legislatures have ratified the treaty creating the court.

Russia, Chile, Algeria, Angola and the Philippines have signed but not ratified it and China and Pakistan have neither signed nor ratified.

The United States, under former President Bill Clinton, was one of 135 nations that signed the treaty, but the Bush administration rescinded the signature.

Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited


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