NEW YORK - May 20 - The United States is insisting that its troops be exempt from international war crimes prosecutions while serving in any U.N. force in Iraq, despite U.S. abuse of prisoners there, Human Rights Watch said today.
Without prior notice to members of the U.N. Security Council, the United States yesterday demanded an immediate vote to renew contentious Security Council Resolution 1487. This measure grants immunity to personnel in U.N. authorized or approved operations from states that have not ratified the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty.
A similar resolution granting immunity to U.S. peacekeepers was first adopted in July 2002, and was renewed by Resolution 1487 last year. Resolution 1487 does not require renewal for another five weeks.
"Given the recent revelations from Abu Ghraib prison, the U.S. government has picked one hell of a moment to ask for special treatment on war crimes," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch. "The U.N. Security Council should not grant special favors to any country, including the United States."
Human Rights Watch said that the U.S. government wanted to push an ICC resolution through as quickly as possible so that the contentious issue would not overshadow efforts to win Security Council backing for the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqi authorities on June 30.
In 2002, the Bush administration's insistence on an ICC exemption for U.S. troops involved in U.N. operations seemed unnecessary at the time. In light of recent abuses by U.S. forces in Iraq, this insistence has taken on a more sinister meaning. Just hours before he proposed Security Council renewal of Resolution 1487, Ambassador James Cunningham, the Deputy U.S. Representative to the United Nations, said during a Council debate on Iraq that the "shameful acts" committed by U.S. forces against Iraqi detainees would be punished.
"The ICC can only prosecute the most serious crimes where national courts fail to punish those responsible," said Dicker. "It is time for the United States to demonstrate that it will abide by international standards and has nothing to fear from the ICC."
The ICC is a court of last resort. Credible U.S. war crimes trials or courts-martial would preclude the ICC prosecutor from taking up cases against U.S. military personnel.
Human Rights Watch opposes Resolution 1487. The resolution distorts the Rome Statute, the treaty establishing the ICC. The Security Council has overstepped its authority under the U.N. Charter by seeking to amend a multilateral treaty in this way.
Renewal of the resolution was expected to occur sometime next month and generate a huge debate in a public meeting of U.N. member states at the Security Council. An open meeting will still take place, but the U.S. rush to early renewal with only 48 hours notice is a deliberate effort to curtail debate.
"The United States fears any meaningful discussion of this resolution," said Dicker. "Washington wants to steamroll renewal of Resolution 1487 in 48 hours to undercut growing objections to its campaign of special exemption from the rule of law. Last year three states didn't vote for the resolution, and this year that number will grow."
The ICC, based in The Hague, has broad international support. Currently 94 countries have ratified the Rome Statue establishing the court and nearly 140 have signed the treaty. Last year these states elected the court's first 18 judges and prosecutor. The court's first investigations in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to begin this year.
Iraq has neither signed nor ratified the ICC treaty.
For an analysis of Human Rights Watch's concerns about Resolution 1422/1487, see http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/icc/docs/1422legal.htm.
For more information on the International Criminal Court, please visit http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/icc/