- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2003

The U.N. Security Council exempted American soldiers on overseas peacekeeping missions from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court (ICC), despite opposition from France, Germany and Syria.

The one-year blanket exemption, approved on a 12-0 vote with three abstentions, gives Washington more time to sign bilateral agreements with nations that are parties to the ICC protecting Americans on their territory.

During the first year of the court’s existence, 38 such accords were signed.

Even though France, Germany and Syria abstained rather than vote “no,” the disagreement reminded diplomats of the divisions before the war in Iraq, when France threatened to veto a resolution explicitly authorizing military action under any circumstances.

In an unusually blunt statement before the vote yesterday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed distaste for Washington’s request that U.S. officials and soldiers be shielded from the jurisdiction of the ICC, the first permanent global tribunal.

The 1998 Rome statute that set up the court “was not intended to cover such a sweeping request but only a more specific request relating to a particular situation,” Mr. Annan said.

“But allow me to express the hope that this does not become an annual routine,” he said. “If that were to happen, it would undermine not only the authority of the ICC but also the authority of this council and the legitimacy of United Nations peacekeeping.”

A U.S official later said that Mr. Annan’s comments were understandable because “his institution feels strongly about the subject, but we disagree.”

Last year, the Security Council voted unanimously to grant a one-year exemption to nations that are not parties to the Rome treaty, after the United States threatened to block all U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world.

The Bush administration opposes the ICC, fearing politically motivated prosecution of Americans. Shortly before the treaty entered into force in July, it withdrew the U.S. signature, which former President Clinton had placed just before leaving office.

At the time, Mr. Clinton made clear he disliked the ICC and realized the Senate would never ratify it, but he signed it as a gesture of internationalism.

“The ICC is not the law,” the U.S. deputy representative to the United Nations, James Cunningham, told the Security Council yesterday. “In our view, it is a fatally flawed institution.”

He said the U.S. position was “consistent with a fundamental principle of international law ? the need for a state to consent if it is to be bound.”

Also yesterday, the United States completed the latest bilateral agreement under the statute’s Article 98. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and visiting Ugandan Foreign Minister James Wapakhabulo signed it during a ceremony at the State Department.

Ninety countries have ratified the ICC treaty so far. The court was set up to try perpetrators of the world’s worst crimes ? genocide, mass war crimes and systematic human rights abuses ? and is expected to begin operations later this year at The Hague.

The French deputy U.N. ambassador, Michel Duclos, said that his country, which had supported the U.S. request last year, abstained yesterday because the elections of judges and a prosecutor “left no room for doubt” about the credibility of the court.

For Germany, opposing an exemption “was a matter of principle,” said Ambassador Gunter Pleuger.

“We do not share the view that the ICC is an impediment to peacekeeping. On the contrary, the ICC is a safeguard,” he said. “We feel that a treaty… should not be amended by a Security Council resolution.”

Britain, which is a signatory to the Rome statute, said the resolution would not be automatically renewed, but for the time being it was an “acceptable outcome in what is for the council a difficult situation.”

“Whilst we understand U.S. concerns about the International Criminal Court, we do not share them,” said Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock.

A U.S. official said the United States intends to ask for extensions of the exemption every year, “for as long as necessary.”

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