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Monday, 6 May, 2002, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
US renounces world court treaty
The tribunal prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, The Hague
Critics say existing tribunals' powers must be extended
The United States has withdrawn from a treaty to establish an International Criminal Court (ICC), provoking outrage from human rights organisations.

Unsigning the treaty will throw the United States into opposition against the most important new institution for enforcing human rights in 50 years

Kenneth Roth
Human Rights Watch
In a letter to the United Nations delivered on Monday, the US says it will not consider itself bound by the treaty - even though Bill Clinton signed up to it in 2000.

The US has vehemently opposed the setting up of the ICC, fearing its soldiers and diplomats could be brought before the court which will hear cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Washington Working Group on the ICC - an umbrella group of organisations supporting the court - said withdrawing from the treaty was a "rash action signalling to the world that America is turning its back on decades of US leadership in prosecuting war criminals since the Nuremberg trials."

US 'undermined'

Judge Richard Goldstone, the first chief prosecutor at The Hague war crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, echoed these sentiments saying:

"I think it is a very backwards step. It is unprecedented which I think to an extent smacks of pettiness in the sense that it is not going to affect in any way the establishment of the international criminal court".

"The US have really isolated themselves and are putting themselves into bed with the likes of China, the Yemen and other undemocratic countries," he added.

US senior diplomat Pierre-Richard Prosper said the letter "neutralised" Mr Clinton's signature on the treaty.

Comes into being on July 1 and begins work early next year
Will be based in The Hague
66 nations have ratified the treaty
Nearly 100 nations have signed up and may ratify the treaty in the future
China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iraq and Turkey have failed to sign up to the treaty
Egypt, Iran, Israel and Russia have failed to ratify the treaty
"It frees us from some of the obligations that are incurred by signature. When you sign you have an obligation not to take actions that would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty," he said.

By unsigning the treaty, the US would no longer have to extradite people wanted by the court, he said.

"What we've learnt from the war on terror is that rather than creating an international mechanism to deal with these issues it is better to organise an international mandate that authorises states to use their unilateral tools to tackle the problems we have," Mr Prosper said.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell, announcing the decision on Sunday, said the court would undermine US judicial authority.

He said it would be accountable to no higher authority - including the UN Security Council - and would be able "to second-guess the United States after we have tried somebody".

'Wrong side of history'

For President George W Bush's critics, this decision serves as further proof of a unilateralist approach to foreign policy and puts him at odds with allies, including Canada and the European Union, which support the ICC.

"The administration is putting itself on the wrong side of history," said Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch.

"Unsigning the treaty will not stop the court. It will only throw the United States into opposition against the most important new institution for enforcing human rights in 50 years," he said.

The court itself still has enough international support to begin work in The Hague next year - but without US backing, correspondents say it will be a far less powerful and effective player on the world stage.

Judge Richard Goldstone
"I think it is a very backwards step"
Pierre Richard Prosper
"The ICC doesn't give enough respect to domestic procedures"
See also:

06 May 02 | Americas
Analysis: US treaty turnaround
11 Apr 02 | Europe
Q&A: International Criminal Court
25 Aug 00 | World
Obstacles to world court
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