UNITED NATIONS - The United States faced growing opposition Friday to a new exemption for American peacekeepers from international prosecution for war crimes, with human rights groups arguing that it is unjustified in the face of the prisoner abuse scandal.
The Bush administration argues that the International Criminal Court which was established on July 1, 2002 and started operating last year could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecution of American troops.
When the court was established, the United States threatened to end far-flung peacekeeping operations established or authorized by the United Nations if it didn't get an exemption for American peacekeepers.
China delayed a UN Security Council vote on a controversial measure to extend the immunity of US peacekeeping troops from prosecution for war crimes. (AFP/File/Henny Ray Abrams)
After contentious negotiations, the council approved a one-year extension. Last year, the resolution to exempt U.S. peacekeepers was renewed for another year by a vote of 12-0 with three abstentions France, Germany and Syria.
The U.N. Security Council had planned to hold an open meeting Friday to give member states a chance to express their views on the U.S. demand for a new exemption, and then immediately vote on a resolution that would authorize it.
But China said it didn't have instructions so the meeting was put off until Monday.
This year, France, Germany, Spain and Brazil have said they will abstain on a new extension and Romania and Benin are possibilities. That would still give the United States the minimum nine "yes" votes for adoption, and Romania indicated it would not allow the resolution to be defeated.
"At this moment there is an inclination that we might abstain," said Romania's U.N. Ambassador Mihnea Motoc. "If the adoption of the resolution is at risk, we might look again at this position."
Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch, said Friday he expects the resolution to pass, but he told a news conference that the growing number of abstentions should send a strong message to Washington that much of the international community opposes immunity for U.S. troops.
He said the reports of "sexual humiliation and savage beatings" of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad highlight the importance of an international court of last resort to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
The International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction over the events in Iraq, first because neither the United States nor Iraq have ratified the Rome Treaty establishing the tribunal, and second because of the exemption, he said.
Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said Thursday that the U.S. concern about the court "in no way reflects any lack of determination to ensure that perpetrators of crimes are fully prosecuted."
Besides seeking another year's exemption from arrest or prosecution of U.S. peacekeepers, Washington has signed bilateral agreements with 89 countries that bar any prosecution of American officials by the court and is seeking more such treaties.
The 94 countries that have ratified the 1998 Rome Treaty including all 15 European Union members maintain it contains enough safeguards to prevent frivolous prosecutions.
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