Global Policy Forum

US and Mexico at Odds over Tribunal

Seattle Times
October 29, 2005

Mexico became the 100th country to ratify the treaty founding the world's first permanent war-crimes tribunal, which the United States has opposed. Mexico's action was largely symbolic, because the International Criminal Court came into being in 2002 after 60 countries had signed its founding treaty. The treaty has been signed by 135 countries.

The United States argues that the court, based in The Hague, could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. troops. The Bush administration has signed a pact with a host of countries insisting they exempt U.S. officials, soldiers and contractors from prosecution by the court and has threatened to cut aid if they do not. Mexico had already made it clear earlier this year that it would not sign such an exemption. U.S. military aid to Mexico is particularly sensitive because Mexican security forces are key in combating drug trafficking into the United States.

Relations between Mexico and the U.S. have been strained by Mexico's opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, differences over drug trafficking and immigration policies. The court was set up to prosecute individuals accused of the world's worst atrocities — genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity — in a belated effort to fulfill the promise of the Nuremberg trials, which tried Nazi leaders after World War II. The court, which has yet to put defendants on trial, issued its first arrest warrants — for five members of Uganda's notoriously cruel Lord's Resistance Army — earlier this month. It is also investigating alleged crimes against humanity in Sudan's Darfur region and atrocities in Congo. While the United States opposes the court, earlier this year it permitted the U.N. Security Council to refer the Sudan cases to the tribunal. The U.S. abstained rather than use its veto power in a tribunal vote.

The U.S. had informed Mexico that joining the ICC would lead to the cut of an $11.5 million program to help its justice system deal with drug trafficking, according to human-rights groups that support the Dutch-based court. That amounts to almost 40 percent of the U.S. economic aid Mexico receives. Mexico could avoid the loss if it signs the immunity agreement, known as an Article 98 agreement. Human-rights activists say most nations probably would agree to Article 98 deals if they covered only U.S. military personnel but reject the broader pacts the State Department is pushing to cover all U.S. citizens and even third-country contractors working for the U.S. government.

So far, 101 nations have inked such deals, including Colombia and the Dominican Republic. But other Latin Americans have responded angrily to the U.S. pressures. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Roberto Tovar last month called the U.S. immunity proposals "offensive" and added: "One can be poor, but dignified." The U.S. already has cut aid to 11 Latin American nations for refusing to sign the immunity agreements, making it the region of the world hardest hit by ICC-related sanctions.

Mexico ranks as the second-biggest U.S. trading partner and the biggest entry point for illegal migrants and cocaine. "Mexico is a strategic country," said Paulina Vega, the Latin America and Caribbean coordinator for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Citizens for Global Solutions, a New York group that supports the court, says Washington may cut $40 million in economic aid to eight Latin American and Caribbean countries for the 2006 fiscal year.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on US Opposition to the ICC


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