- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

BRUSSELS European Union nations have no right under international law to exempt U.S. citizens from prosecutions at the International Criminal Court, according to a paper drafted by the legal service of the EU head office.

The document a copy of which was obtained yesterday by the Associated Press says countries that agree to specifically keep Americans out of the hands of the international court effectively make themselves safe havens for suspects in cases of war crimes, genocide or other crimes against humanity.

That, it adds, "defeats the very object and purpose" of the court, which was set up to bring war crimes suspects to justice when national governments refuse.

Earlier this month, the Bush administration wary of U.S. military personnel becoming scapegoats in politically motivated court cases asked the 15 EU governments to sign bilateral immunity accords. The request, it said, was legal under Article 98 of the International Criminal Court charter.

EU legal experts disagreed, asserting that Article 98 covers the dispatching of troops and peacekeepers to another country and exempting them from jurisdiction.

Such a "status of forces" provision is common in troop-stationing accords, but only applies "in the context of a military assignment."

EU legal experts said Washington wants to cover "all U.S. nationals, not just members or personnel of the military force" in blanket exemptions unrelated to a specific military mission.

Were a country to agree to that, the EU document said, it would hinder the tribunal in its efforts to do what it was created for.

The human rights organization urged EU governments to stand firm.

"The EU foreign ministers must deal with these 'impunity agreements' with a sharp legal analysis," said Lotte Leicht, Brussels director of Human Rights Watch. "There is no lawful basis in the ICC treaty for such agreements with the United States."

The court was created in Rome in 1998, when 140 nations agreed to create an international tribunal to hold people accountable for crimes committed during war and other crises.

The treaty establishing the International Criminal Court has been signed by nearly 140 countries.

The United States is the most vocal opponent of the court, but others haven't signed the treaty, including India, Pakistan, Iraq and Indonesia. The Clinton administration signed the treaty in December 2000.

Mr. Bush renounced the U.S. signature on the treaty, which has upset several EU nations.

"It is important to support the court in the work for human rights globally," Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh said yesterday. "It is not reasonable to exempt a country, and it is fundamentally strange and wrong for the USA to try to stay on the sidelines and exempt its own citizens."

European officials have expressed concern Washington may use differences about the International Criminal Court to reduce its commitment to NATO something U.S. officials deny.

However, the Bush administration has warned some nations that aren't in NATO they may lose U.S. military aid unless they agree not to extradite Americans to the international court. Israel and Romania have already signed such accords.

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