U.S. SHOULD FACE COURT, ANNAN SAYS
War-crimes immunity expires June 30
By Steven Edwards
[This article from the Can-West News Service was published in the Vancouver Sun, June 19, 2004.]
UNITED NATIONS - The row over interrogation techniques used in the war on terrorism has become central to a new push to make U.S. military forces answerable to the United Nations war crimes court.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is leading the charge against Washington's call for the UN Security Council to renew its special exemption for U.S. forces from prosecution by the court.
At a luncheon with Security Council ambassadors Friday, Annan spoke past U.S. Ambassador Stuart Holliday and urged the other 14 ambassadors to vote against the United States when Washington makes its request for immunity official.
The immunity Washington won last year expires June 20 - the same day the American-led coalition in Iraq will hand over political sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government.
"I think it would be unfortunate for one to press for such an exemption, given the prisoner abuse in Iraq," Annan told reporters, citing the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad.
"I think in this circumstance it would be unwise to press for an exemption, and it would be even more unwise on the part of the Security Council to grant it."
The United States opposed the International Criminal Court long before it opened its doors in 2002, saying countries opposed to American foreign policy would use it to launch spurious prosecutions of their personnel.
The court has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in countries that have signed and ratified the 1998 Rome Treaty that created it.
But the treaty also permits the Security Council to postpone selected prosecutions for up to one year.
Canada, which was central to efforts to create the ICC, is among countries that will back Annan's stance at an open council debate on the U.S. immunity bid next week.
"It would discredit the council and the United Nations that stands for rule of law and the primacy of rule of law," Annan insisted.
"Blanket exemption is wrong. It is of dubious judicial value, and I don't think it should be encouraged by the council."
As the war on terrorism has intensified, the United States has said it fears more than ever the court will become a forum for political witch hunts.
Advocates of the court, however, say Washington is eager to avoid scrutiny of the way it is interpreting international law as it combats terrorism.
The United States has detained untold numbers of suspected terrorists, labeling many of them "enemy combatants" so they cannot claim protection as war prisoners under the Geneva Conventions.
In Iraq, the U.S. military continues to detain between 4,000 and 5,000 people it says pose a possible threat against coalition forces.
Suspects linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network are also being held in Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. base on the island of Cuba.
Washington won immunity in the first year of the International Criminal Court after threatening to halt its financial and military support for UN peacekeeping missions around the world - a move that would have crippled them.
But that threat is harder to make this year as the U.S. calls for increased international support in Iraq.
The United States needs nine supporting votes in the 15-member Security Council.
But seven countries - Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Benin, and Romania, are expected to abstain.
China has also threatened to use the veto it holds as a permanent member even though Beijing also opposes the ICC.
Diplomats say China is upset about moves to have Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese province, join the World Health Organization.
Can-West News Service