UN Council Approves Deal on War Crime Court
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to protect Americans from prosecution by a new war crimes court for a year, a deal that saves U.N. peacekeeping missions from Washington's threats to abolish them.
After a firestorm of protests against the Bush administration's stance, the 15-member council approved a revised resolution on the International Criminal Court following agreement from Mexico, the last hold out.
The document tells the tribunal to allow a 12-month grace period before investigating or prosecuting U.N. peacekeepers from countries that do not support the court "if a case arises" and "unless the Security Council decides otherwise."
It expresses the council's intention to renew the resolution in a year but does not commit it to do so as Washington had wanted in its search for cast-iron guarantees.
Following fierce objections from its closest allies, including the 15 European Union members, Canada, Mexico and others, the United States backed away from seeking permanent immunity for its soldiers and civilians.
As soon as the resolution was adopted, the logjam was broken and the council extended the U.N. police training mission in Bosnia and a smaller one in the nearby Prevlaka Peninsula. Both were in danger of being terminated on Monday by a U.S. veto if the court dispute were not settled.
The International Criminal Court was set up to try individuals for the world's most heinous atrocities: genocide, war crimes and gross human rights abuses. It is a belated effort to fulfill the promise of the Nuremberg trials 56 years ago in which Nazi leaders were prosecuted for new categories of human rights and war crimes.
US INVADES THE HAGUE?
Opposed to the court as an affront to U.S. sovereignty, the United States also fears frivolous complaints against soldiers and officials.
After declaring he was pleased with the vote, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, warned of "serious consequences" if any American ever came before the tribunal.
"No nation should underestimate our commitment to protect our citizens," he told reporters after the vote, a reference to pending U.S. legislation to rescue any American that would come before the court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Negroponte said the United States would "never" ratify the 1998 Rome treaty establishing the tribunal and repeated his threat to put all U.N. peacekeeping missions at risk "throughout the globe" had the resolution not been adopted.
But British Ambassador Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who negotiated the compromise, said the resolution was less sweeping that it appeared. "There is no mention of blanket immunity. What is being provided is a 'time out."'
France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, who submitted many of the amendments to the original U.S. text, said he was satisfied. "For us what was paramount was the authority of the new-born International Criminal Court," he said.
"There is no blanket immunity given to peacekeepers or soldiers participating in operations authorized by the Security Council. There is no preventive, permanent and general immunity and this for us is what is most important," Levitte said."
Most council members believed the issue was ideological and that U.S. worries its soldiers or civilians could come to the court for systematic atrocities were illusory. The court, for example, only steps in when countries are unable or unwilling to prosecute mass murderers or other systematic abuses.
Some supporters of the court, however, believe the resolution amends a 1998 treaty establishing the tribunal through the back door.
"We think it is a sad day for the United Nations. We are extremely disappointed with the outcome," said Canadian Ambassador Paul Heinbecker, who organized dozens of countries to speak out publicly against the U.S. stance.
"We don't think it is in the mandate of the council to interpret treaties that are negotiated somewhere else.
He said the court's statutes required a threat to international peace and security before the Security Council could act and "we don't think (that) had been established."
The deal was difficult to reach in negotiations that stretched over three weeks. Even after the United States agreed to a 12-month exemption at least seven council members, led by France, refused to vote for the resolution and obtained further last-minute changes.
Some 76 nations have ratified the 1998 Rome treaty, creating the court, and 139 have signed it.