U.S. Faces Intense Criticism Over Global Court

Arguing that peacekeepers are not above the law, Canada said on Wednesday
the U.N. Security Council did not have the power to rewrite treaties so Washington
could get immunity for its soldiers from the world’s first permanent criminal
court.

UNITED
NATIONS – Arguing that peacekeepers are not above the law, Canada said on Wednesday
the U.N. Security Council did not have the power to rewrite treaties so Washington
could get immunity for its soldiers from the world’s first permanent criminal
court.

Canadian Ambassador Paul Heinbecker called a public council debate so any countries
could challenge the Bush administration and tell the 15 council members to reject
weakening the International Criminal Court.

And they did, from New Zealand to South Africa and Jordan to Brazil. Only
India took Washington’s side, with its ambassador, V.K. Nambiar, saying the
council should give “careful consideration” to the views of countries
contributing troops.

At issue is Washington’s threat to end peacekeeping in Bosnia and
everywhere else, if all civilian and military personnel, even those not under
direct U.N. jurisdiction, are not exempt from prosecution from the court, which
came into existence on July 1.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte gave no hint the United States had modified
its position to have all peacekeepers in Bosnia immune from the court’s
jurisdiction for as long as the U.N. mission exists.

Otherwise, he said “it certainly will affect our ability to contribute
peacekeepers.” With few U.S. combat troops in U.N. missions, the bigger danger
is Congress cutting off peacekeeping funds, thereby closing down most missions.

The court, the first global permanent tribunal to try individuals for
genocide, war crimes and systematic, gross human rights abuses, is a belated
effort to fulfill the promise of the Nuremberg trials 56 years ago, when Nazi
leaders were prosecuted for new categories of war crimes.

Britain, France and others have considered a 12-month deferral of immunity
from prosecution under Article 16 of the court’s statutes, depending on the
wording. They are waiting for the U.S. to offer a revised proposal but so far
Washington wants immunity for as long as the Bosnia mission exists.

“But even if the council goes this way, it raises serious questions,” said
French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte. He said “we must not take hostage” the 16
U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world.

But Canada’s Heinbecker said even a 12-month exemption for the reasons the
United States raised was illegal. The negotiating history of Article 16 makes
clear exemptions can only be given on a case-by-case basis, such as during
peace negotiations, he said.

The U.S. proposals would “send an unacceptable message that some people —
peacekeepers — are above the law,” he said.

No vote was planned for Wednesday. However, the Security Council has to
make a decision by Monday.

Six of the 15 council members are among the 76 nations that have ratified a
1998 Rome treaty setting up the court. All others, except China and Singapore,
have signed the pact.

Referring to the Holocaust museum in Washington, Jordan’s U.N. ambassador,
Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, said the artifacts showed “shamefully just
how primordial we human beings still are.” For the council to consider anything
else but how to assist the court “is to offer comfort to those criminals of
tomorrow,” he said.

But the Bush administration argues that countries could use the court to
try American soldiers or political figures for war crimes and jeopardize U.S.
sovereignty.

Supporters of the court say there are so many safeguards, they fear few
cases will come before the tribunal. The court, can only prosecute individuals
whose governments are unable or unwilling to do so.

Washington wants a more blanket exemption, rejecting bilateral agreements
as insufficient.

The Bosnia operation was obviously chosen because it came up for renewal as
the ICC treaty went into force. Otherwise the choice is peculiar as the NATO-led
troops are not under U.N. command but are endorsed by the Security Council.

In addition, the Balkans are under the jurisdiction of an ad hoc Yugoslav
war crimes U.N. tribunal, which takes precedent over the ICC and has fewer
restrictions than the new court.

Author: Evelyn Leopold

News Service: Reuters

URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/0710-05.htm