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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 15:17 GMT 16:17 UK
Washington seeks troop immunity
British Marines on patrol in Afghanistan
European peacekeepers also enjoy protection from prosecution, argues US

A fresh clash is looming between the United States and its west European allies over the status of American troops in the International Criminal Court.

It concerns an American demand that the Security Council should exempt all troops serving in UN-authorised peacekeeping operations from prosecution by the new Court.


The Bush administration and many members of Congress are adamantly opposed to any dilution of American sovereignty in criminal justice

Other members of the Council, including Britain and France, are overwhelmingly opposed to an American draft resolution introduced on Wednesday.

But the United States has accused European countries of hypocrisy because, it says, they sought similar protection for their troops serving in the international security force in Afghanistan.

Human rights campaigners and other supporters of the new Court, which comes into legal existence on 1 July, see the opposition of the Bush administration as symptomatic.

Its attitude, they say, is that the United States is a special case and that international rules apply only to others.

These critics find ammunition in the way the administration has tried to circumvent American judicial safeguards by holding terrorist suspects outside the United States or declaring them to be enemy combatants.

Pull-out threat

What is clear is that the American draft Security Council resolution takes the Bush administration's well-known opposition to the International Criminal Court to a new level.

It is saying, in effect: if we don't get a Security Council guarantee that American soldiers serving in UN-authorised operations will not be prosecuted for war crimes, we may pull them out of all such missions.

In theory, that could apply to the Nato-led force in Bosnia; its mandate is up for renewal in the Council on Friday.

The UN Security Council
Issue could force Britain or France to use veto in Security Council
But the attempt to get blanket immunity for all international peacekeepers is the crunch point. Washington argues that without that, its soldiers might be subject to politically-motivated or frivolous prosecutions.

In response, the Europeans point to the many safeguards built into the Rome Treaty governing the court - in particular, the principle that it can intervene only if a country cannot or will not prosecute crimes against humanity in its national courts.

They stress how unlikely it is that American peacekeepers would commit such crimes; or that, if they did, the Americans would not deal with it themselves.

Embarrassment

None of these arguments, however, addresses the more fundamental issue: the adamant opposition of the Bush administration and many members of Congress to any dilution of American sovereignty in criminal justice.

The United States has sought to embarrass its European allies by citing the military agreement reached last January with the Afghan government.

The agreement said that members of the International Security Assistance Force - including British, French and German soldiers - would not be handed over to an international tribunal or other entity or state without the consent of their government.

The American representative at the UN, Richard Williamson, told the Washington Post that this was evidence of double standards by America's allies.

Undermining the court

European diplomats say the cases are quite different: the one-off agreement with the Afghan authorities did not nullify the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which did not even exist at that stage.

The ICC
Comes into being on July 1 and begins work early next year
Will be based in The Hague
68 nations have ratified the treaty
Over 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
The US, Egypt, Iran, Israel and Russia have failed to ratify the treaty
In contrast, formal exemption by the Security Council for all peacekeepers would seriously undermine the Court just as it comes into being.

The Europeans also argue that their ratification of the Rome Treaty prevents them from supporting the American resolution.

The question is whether the United States is prepared to force the issue to the point where Britain or France might feel compelled to use its veto in the Security Council.

That would take transatlantic differences into new territory.

See also:

20 Jun 02 | Business
06 May 02 | Americas
06 May 02 | Americas
11 Apr 02 | In Depth
11 Apr 02 | Europe
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