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U.S./UN: Washington Faces Criticism As It Seeks Renewed Immunity Deal

The United States is seeking a renewal of a UN resolution that gives U.S. peacekeepers immunity from prosecution by the world court. The United States worries the International Criminal Court could be used to launch politically motivated lawsuits against U.S. troops. But the move has again prompted criticism by the court's supporters, especially as it comes amid the prisoner-abuse scandal in Iraq.

Prague, 8 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The resolution up for renewal gives some troops a 12-month immunity from prosecution by the new world court.

It applies to UN peacekeepers from countries that have not ratified the statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Chief on that list is the United States, which fears the court could be used to launch politically motivated lawsuits against its troops.

The UN Security Council first adopted the resolution in 2002, and then renewed it last year.

Each time there's been criticism. But now it's up for renewal again by the beginning of July, and opposition appears to be growing.

Irune Aguirrezabal is with the Coalition for the International Criminal Court in Brussels. She said that "the number of states, members of the [UN] Security Council, that seem to be considering to abstain was pretty high. There were between five and seven and even eight countries that were considering abstaining. For this type of resolution [to pass] you need no veto from any of the five permanent members and no more than six abstentions."

She said one reason there's more unease over the resolution this year is the recent pictures of some U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners.

To be sure, there's no direct connection.

The resolution would not apply to the U.S. soldiers in Iraq, as they are not on a UN peacekeeping mission.

And the abuse is likely not the sort of case the ICC could prosecute. It only steps in when the courts of the country involved are unwilling or unable to prosecute. The U.S. is investigating the Abu Ghurayb abuse, and the first sentences have already been handed down.
"There is a big outcry, not just from Arab countries, but also from many European countries and others, that people disagree with this double system of justice, one for Americans and one for the rest of the world."

But Aguirrezabal said the United States is sending a bad signal by seeking a renewed immunity deal now.

"What is the morality of having this system where you want to have your citizens participating in peacekeeping operations exempted from an international court that is only to be trying war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide? I think there is a big outcry, not just from Arab countries, but also from many European countries and others, that people disagree with this double system of justice, one for Americans and one for the rest of the world," Aguirrezabal said.

Since the Iraq war began, the court's chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has received more than 100 requests to investigate U.S. or allied troops -- but none has triggered an investigation.

Supporters say that shows the court is not a forum for anti-U.S. lawsuits.

But that's not how detractors in the United States see it.

Lee Casey is a Washington-based lawyer who has presented his case against the ICC in a number of legal publications.

"I think, actually, all of those requests and demands for investigations simply show how potentially dangerous the court is in the area of politically motivated prosecutions," Casey said. "The prosecutor has indeed so far turned them down, but he has turned them down in areas where everybody agrees the court would not have jurisdiction. The real test will come when there is a demand for an investigation in circumstances where there's a disagreement about that jurisdiction, and that will happen when Americans are accused of offenses before the court on the territory of a state party."

Charles Hill, a fellow at Yale's United Nations Studies center, said he believes the resolution will get enough votes again.

But he said the United States needs it less this year.

That's because the United States already has some 63 bilateral immunity deals, under which individual countries have promised not to extradite Americans to the court.

Hill said that the seeking of the renewal "is the U.S. taking a position that is not really designed to try to protect or insulate the U.S., but a position that is saying to the world community: 'You really don't want to do this. An International Criminal Court -- whether it's well-designed, or whether it should be fixed in some way, and the U.S. thinks it should be fixed -- [is not] something that should be set up in order to be looking at the corporals and privates and sergeants of peacekeeping units under the UN. It's just not suitable for that.'"

It's not yet clear when the resolution will be debated.