Global Policy Forum

US Backs Down On War-Crimes Exemption

Associated Press
June 22, 2004

Facing strong opposition, the United States said Tuesday it is willing to compromise and seek an exemption for American peacekeepers from international prosecution for war crimes for just one final year.

The United States circulated a resolution last month which would authorize an exemption for a third straight year, but it ran into stiff opposition from supporters of the International Criminal Court and Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Last week, Mr. Annan urged the Security Council not to renew the U.S. exemption, citing the recent abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces. He also delivered a written note to council ambassadors that raised "serious doubts" about the legality of an exemption and warned against dividing the United Nations' most powerful body.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham conceded Tuesday that council members "are becoming increasingly uncomfortable" with the U.S. exemption so the United States was willing to go along with "the idea of a final extension."

At a closed council meeting late Tuesday, the United States circulated a revised draft resolution which Mr. Cunningham said eliminates a reference to renewing the exemption and "makes clear this is the final extension."

Despite intensive U.S. lobbying, council diplomats said the United States didn't have the minimum nine "yes" votes on the 15-member council to approve the original resolution. Mr. Cunningham said the United States wanted to hear the reaction of council members to the new draft before calling for a vote. German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger reiterated his country's opposition to any exemption, but other council ambassadors said they needed to consult their capitals. "We would like to know if this approach of ours will provide a basis for going forward that will avoid the divisiveness in the council that I think we all have an interest in avoiding," Mr. Cunningham said. "We will see tomorrow (Wednesday) based on reactions how we can proceed."

U.S, President George W. Bush's administration argues that the International Criminal Court — which started operating last year — could be used for frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions of American troops.

The 94 countries that have ratified the 1998 Rome Treaty establishing the court maintain it contains enough safeguards to prevent frivolous prosecutions and insist that nobody should be exempt. This year, human rights groups and court supporters argue that another U.S. exemption is even more unjustified in the wake of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, a view backed by Mr. Annan.

Besides seeking a new exemption from arrest or prosecution of U.S. peacekeepers, Washington has signed bilateral agreements with 90 countries that bar any prosecution of American officials by the court and is seeking more such treaties.

Mr. Cunningham said the United States is "more comfortable" with a final year-long exemption given Washington's progress in signing bilateral agreements and status of forces agreements.

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


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