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Facing Defeat, Bush Withdraws Bid For Exemption From War Crimes Court

by Robert McMahon

Bush Wins Iraq Sovereignty Vote In UN, Now Wants Immunity From War Crimes Court

There will be no battle in the UN Security Council over the issue of U.S. peacekeepers and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

That was the message delivered June 23 by U.S. diplomats once it became clear they would not gain sufficient support for extending a resolution exempting U.S. peacekeepers from ICC prosecution.

In the past, Washington has threatened to veto UN peacekeeping missions if its soldiers were exposed to ICC prosecution. This time, it agreed to abandon a new resolution in part because of success in securing bilateral protections with nearly 90 states.

The U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, reiterated the administration's opposition to the war crimes court. He repeated the concerns about politically motivated prosecutions against U.S. officials and said the court also lacks due process protections present under U.S. law, including trial by jury.

"When the United States voluntarily commits its armed forces to participate in peacekeeping missions to bring about peace and security in other parts of the world, we believe it is wholly inappropriate then to subject them to possible jurisdiction of a tribunal which cannot provide adequate guarantees of due process," Cunningham said.

Cunningham declined to say what the United States would do when the next UN peacekeeping operation comes up for renewal in the Security Council. The council next month is due to vote on the extension of the UN mission in Kosovo. The United States has contributed more than 400 police to the UN mission in Kosovo as well as troops serving with a NATO-led peacekeeping force there.

Cunningham read a statement saying that in the absence of a new resolution, the United States will need to "take into account the risk of ICC review" when determining contributions to UN-authorized operations.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the bilateral agreements the United States has signed with individual nations, known as Article 98 agreements, could be a factor in considering particular missions.

The United States has hundreds of thousands of troops deployed in various missions worldwide and has negotiated protections under Article 98 agreements and Standard of Forces Agreements. But it remains concerned about its personnel coming under jurisdiction of the ICC, to which the United States is not a party.

Boucher said the recent U.S. move to prosecute soldiers accused of abusing prisoners in Iraq should provide proof that it has competent means to address crimes committed by its armed forces.

"We have, I think, demonstrated that in the very unfortunate situation, the terrible situation that developed at Abu Ghraib, that the United States does stand for justice and will itself impose justice on any members of our services who might undertake things that constitute international crimes," Boucher said.

But the outcry over prisoner of war abuses under U.S. authority appears to have influenced a number of council members.

China is also not party to the ICC and in the past voted for resolutions providing exemptions to U.S. peacekeepers. But China's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, told reporters the Abu Ghraib scandal had placed his government in a difficult position.

"Of course, I understand that the U.S. is also conducting investigations. But at same time, this year, because of wide coverage of the prison mistreatment, my government is under particular pressure [not] to give a blank check to the U.S. for the behavior of their forces," Wang said.

Other council members that had signaled they would abstain on the vote included Germany, France, Spain, and Romania. Council members Chile and Russia had been awaiting instructions from their capitals on an amended U.S. text.

Chile's ambassador, Heraldo Munoz, welcomed the U.S. move.

"This was a polemical resolution in the past and its renewal continued to be polemical and the declaration of the secretary-general on the legal foundations on why the Security Council should not vote in favor, as well as the political considerations, I think, demonstrate that this was a divisive issue," Munoz said.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week advised the council against granting another exemption to U.S. peacekeepers. He said it would discredit the council and the United Nations as well as "the primacy of rule of law."

© 2004 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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