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UN: Security Council Set To Renew Immunity From ICC For U.S. Peacekeepers After Public Debate

  • Robert McMahon

The UN Security Council is expected today to approve a resolution that protects from prosecution personnel in UN peacekeeping operations if their countries have not ratified the statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It extends by one year a resolution that averted a peacekeeping crisis last summer and satisfies U.S. concerns about the jurisdiction of the court. But a number of states plan to use an open debate in the Security Council today to reaffirm their support for the court and its goal of prosecuting -- and preventing -- the world's worst crimes.

United Nations, 12 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Resolution 1422 last July permitted the UN Security Council to renew a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and defuse tensions over the International Criminal Court.

Security Council members are expected today to extend the resolution for another year. But there will first be a public debate that could bring to the surface new strains between the United States and some of its European partners.

The resolution provides UN peacekeepers an exemption from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). It pertains to those countries that have not ratified the ICC, such as the United States.

The ICC treaty, signed by nearly 140 states and ratified by 90, gives the court jurisdiction over individuals no matter the nationality of the accused.

The United States has consistently challenged the court's ability to exercise such jurisdiction. In addition to the Security Council resolution, Washington has signed bilateral agreements with 37 states exempting all of its citizens from prosecution.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the UN, Robert Wood, told RFE/RL the U.S. government is most concerned that the court would be used to pursue political grievances against U.S. personnel. "Our main problem with this treaty is it does not provide the requisite protection for our service members and former government personnel who might be brought up under nefarious charges by some wayward prosecutor or wayward prosecutors," Wood said.

As a case in point, U.S. officials point to recent moves in Belgium, under a 1994 law, to file a war crimes suit against Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S.-led forces in Iraq. The Belgian government amended the law and last month referred the suit to the United States.

But for U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking yesterday in Germany, the suit was an alarming development. "Already, charges have been filed against General Tommy Franks under this dangerous law, which has turned Belgium's legal system into a platform for what I believe will prove to be divisive, politicized lawsuits against officials of her NATO ally," Rumsfeld said.

The ICC, which has not yet become fully operational, does not supersede national legal systems. It is set up to intercede only when national courts are unable to investigate or prosecute serious crimes. William Pace, the convener of a nongovernmental coalition for the ICC, says this clause, in addition to existing practices at the UN, makes the resolution to be voted on today unnecessary.

Pace yesterday stressed the primacy accorded local jurisdiction in the event of charges of serious crimes against U.S. nationals. "People should ask the American government to explain how a U.S. peacekeeping soldier or official would end up on trial before the International Criminal Court in The Hague unless the United States had approved it," Pace said.

More than 20 states have expressed an interest in addressing the Security Council today. Diplomats say the current president of the European Union, Greece, is to deliver a statement on behalf of the EU strongly backing the court.

But the four EU members on the Security Council will vote according to their national views. The measure is expected to easily gain the nine votes needed to pass. Britain and Spain are expected to vote to renew the exemption for a year. Germany is expected to abstain and could possibly be joined by France.

A European diplomat on the Security Council told RFE/RL that one objection to the resolution likely to be raised is its use of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Under the charter, the council can act under Chapter 7 in cases in which there is an imminent threat to international peace or security. No such threat is apparent, the diplomat said.

For nongovernmental advocates of the court, the debate itself amounts to a victory. An expert on the court at Human Rights Watch, Richard Dicker, told reporters yesterday that he hopes the debate will highlight what he called the "unlawful nature" of the UN resolution.

He repeated his criticism of U.S. efforts to exempt its citizens from the court's jurisdiction. "U.S. policies on the ICC are undermining to the human rights ideal and are putting the human rights ideal at risk, and we welcome this debate," Dicker said.

The ICC is the first permanent international court to try war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Its chief prosecutor and 18 judges have now been elected by the Assembly of States Parties, and the court is expected to function later this year.

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