Sat, Jun 14, 2003 - Page 7 News List

US gets exemption from UN tribunal

DIVIDED The Security Council approved an extension of the measure that exempts Americans from the war crimes court, but that does not mean they liked the idea


The UN averted another battle over the US demand that American peacekeepers be exempt from prosecution by the new international war crimes tribunal -- but watch out for next year.

The administration of US President George W. Bush got the quick approval it wanted Thursday for another yearlong exemption, but without the unanimous Security Council support that it had last year.

France, Germany and Syria all abstained in the 12-0 vote, and the battle lines for a new showdown next year were drawn.

``States showed today that they were not ready to simply bow to the will of the United States and rubber stamp the resolution,'' said Fiona McKay, director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights' International Justice Program.

The US made clear that it wants a permanent exemption. But the EU warned it opposes permanent immunity for US peacekeepers.

Last week, the US warned the EU that criticism over the exemption request was further straining the bitter trans-Atlantic division over the war against Iraq. France and Germany, which led opposition to the war and strongly back the court, ignored the warning.

The White House argues that the International Criminal Court (ICC) -- established last year and expected to start operating later this year -- could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecution of American troops.

In addition to seeking the UN exemption, Washington has signed bilateral agreements with 37 countries that bar any prosecution of American officials by the court and is seeking more.

But the 90 countries that have ratified the 1998 Rome Treaty which created the court -- including all 15 EU members -- counter that it contains enough safeguards to prevent any frivolous prosecutions.

The court will prosecute cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed after July 1, 2002, but will step in only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves.

It is the culmination of a campaign for a permanent war crimes tribunal that began with the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

When the court came into being last July, the US threatened to end far-flung peacekeeping operations established or authorized by the UN -- from Afghanistan and the Middle East to Bosnia and Sierra Leone -- if it didn't get an exemption for American peacekeepers.

After a long and acrimonious battle, a compromise was reached to prohibit the investigation or prosecution of current or former officials from the US and other countries that have not ratified the Rome treaty for a year.

The final deal dented the court's underlying principle that no one should be exempt from punishment for war crimes, and it angered court supporters and human rights groups.

The resolution adopted last year, and again on Thursday, expresses the American intention to renew the request for a yearlong exemption every July 1 ``for as long as may be necessary.''

France and Germany both said Thursday that a one-year extension was sufficient.

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