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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 June, 2003, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
US warning over criminal court
Washington has asked the UN to grant US peacekeepers another year's exemption from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.

It has also warned European governments that opposition to the US efforts to gain immunity will harm transatlantic ties.

US peacekeepers in Bosnia
The row concerns the immunity of peacekeepers from prosecution
The US is eager to protect personnel in peacekeeping missions from prosecution by the court, and has been negotiating agreements with individual governments, barring them from surrendering American nationals to the court.

But Washington has accused several EU countries of undermining its efforts to arrange such agreements by lobbying countries not to sign. The US concern was expressed in a note - or demarche - issued to embassies and obtained by the Washington Post newspaper.

"We [the US] are dismayed that the European Union would actively seek to undermine US efforts," it read.

"This will undercut all our efforts to repair and rebuild the transatlantic relationship just as we are taking a turn for the better after a number of difficult months."

Relations have been frosty between the United States and several EU nations - notably Security Council members France and Germany - since a bitter row erupted over the US drive to oust Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

An official at the German foreign ministry confirmed that such a demarche had been received.

"We will take it into consideration," she told BBC News Online.

'Public arena'

The US was heavily criticised last year when it threatened to suspend peacekeeping operations one by one, until the Security Council finally relented and voted 15-0 to grant it a year's immunity.

The US under Bill Clinton initially signed up to the criminal court convention, but in May 2002 George W Bush's administration rescinded the signature.

This will undercut all our efforts to repair and rebuild the transatlantic relationship just as we are taking a turn for the better
US memorandum to EU governments

So far the US has negotiated 37 bilateral accords - mostly with small developing countries - giving its peacekeepers immunity from prosecution.

It argues its personnel could become victims of politically motivated prosecutions and objects to Americans being subject to the court's jurisdiction if it is not a party to the pact.

It has asked the Security Council for a quick vote on its request to extend its exemption from prosecution, seeking to avoid the furore which accompanied the demand last year.

Other council members, still bruised from the clash in the Security Council over the war in Iraq, are also eager to avoid confrontation, and the vote is likely to pass easily.

However, some staunch advocates of the court - most notably Germany, and possibly France - could signal their opposition by abstaining.

Red Cross worker buries a body in DR Congo
Atrocities in DR Congo could be pursued by the court

And four other supporters without council seats - Canada, Jordan, New Zealand and Switzerland - have also requested an open debate, which could go ahead on Thursday.

That would bring tensions over the court into a more public arena.

The International Criminal Court is the first permanent war crimes court and was first conceived at the Nuremberg trials 57 years ago that prosecuted Nazi leaders.

It was opened last year to prosecute war crimes, genocide and systematic human rights abuses in countries where governments are unwilling or unable to do so themselves.

So far, 90 countries have ratified membership of the court, and a further 139 are signatories to the 1998 Rome treaty that established the court.

US fears persecution
01 Jul 02  |  Americas
US criticised in UN debate
11 Jul 02  |  Americas

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