Thu, Jul 03, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US twists arms to get immunity deal

GET THE MESSAGE?Washington is withholding military aid to coerce countries into putting American citizens beyond the reach of the long arm of international law


The US on Tuesday put monetary muscle behind its vehement opposition to the International Criminal Court (ICC), suspending more than US$47 million in military aid to 35 countries for their failure or refusal to give US citizens immunity from the tribunal.

The suspension affects US allies such as Brazil, Colombia and South Africa, the Baltic states as well as NATO hopefuls such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia, officials said.

However, they stressed that Washington would continue to press these nations to sign immunity deals, so-called "Article 98" agreements, with the US so that the assistance could be restored.

"Our hope is to continue to work with governments to secure and ratify Article 98 agreements that protect American service members from arbitrary or political prosecution by the international court," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"It remains an important part of national policy," he told reporters. "We have made this an issue. It's an important issue to the US. It will continue to be an important issue."

Washington fears the court -- the first permanent international court to try cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide -- could become a forum for politically motivated prosecutions of US citizens and has been on a worldwide campaign to sign immunity deals.

Under US law, most of the 90 countries that signed and ratified the Treaty of Rome, which created the ICC, had until July 1 deadline to ink Article 98 deals with the US or face the sanctions.

The 19 members of NATO, as well as the US-designated "major non-NATO allies" -- Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, New Zealand, South Korea and soon, the Philippines -- were exempted from the threat of sanctions, as was Taiwan.

Those nations not receiving automatic exemptions that receive US military aid could avoid the suspension by signing Article 98 pacts, which some 51 nations have done, 44 publicly and seven secretly, according to officials.

US President George W. Bush on Tuesday granted Article 98 waivers to 22 nations that would have otherwise been penalized under the provisions of the American Service Members Protection Act.

Those countries are: Afghanistan, Albania, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Honduras, Macedonia, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nigeria, Panama, Romania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Uganda.

Countries not appearing on that list that receive US military assistance and have ratified the Rome treaty are subject to the aid suspension, officials said.

The White House did not release the names of the countries affected by the sanctions, but Boucher said a total of US$47.6 million in funding allocated to 35 countries in fiscal 2003, which ends on Oct. 1, had been suspended.

The US provides more than US$4 billion a year in foreign military assistance so the total amount affected by the suspension is not particularly large.

But the cut-off in funding, especially to allies like Colombia, is expected to send a political message.

Most US assistance to Colombia is designated for anti-narcotics programs but Washington has moved to increase the amount of counter-insurgency aid it gives to Bogota. About US$5 million of those funds has been blocked because of the sanctions, Boucher said.

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