NEW YORK - May 24 - Algeria, a Security Council member, should not support immunity for U.S. soldiers by voting in favor of renewal of Security Council Resolution 1487, Human Rights Watch said today. 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, including the United States and Iraq.
The United States is insisting that its troops be exempt from international war crimes prosecutions while serving in any U.N. force at a time when U.S. troops have been exposed for abuse of prisoners in Iraq. The United States is pushing for another U.N. resolution that would establish the mandate for a multinational force in Iraq ahead of the planned handover of Iraqi sovereignty on June 30.
"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. "Algeria should not vote in favor of granting special favors to any country, including the United States."
Without prior notice to members of the U.N. Security Council, on Wednesday the United States demanded a vote within forty-eight hours to renew contentious Security Council Resolution 1487. Although the vote was postponed on Friday, it is now expected early next week, possibly Monday.
"Opposition to the resolution is gaining momentum," said Dicker. "Last year, three states didn't vote for the resolution, including Syria. This year, that number will grow and Algeria should build upon the precedent Syria set."
Resolution 1487 does not require renewal for another five weeks. 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.
A similar resolution granting immunity to U.S. peacekeepers was first adopted in July 2002, and was renewed by Resolution 1487 last year. 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.
The ICC is a court of last resort that can only exert jurisdiction where national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute. Credible U.S. war crimes trials or courts-martial would preclude the ICC prosecutor from taking up cases against U.S. military personnel.
"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, 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.
Algeria signed the ICC treaty on December 28, 2000.
For more information on the International Criminal Court, please visit: http://hrw.org/doc/?t=french_justice_icc