- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

NEW YORK The United States last night softened its demand for immunity for U.N. peacekeepers from the new international war crimes tribunal, prompting a quick rebuke from key members of the U.S. Senate.
The proposal was circulated as a draft Security Council resolution that would exempt U.S. soldiers from the court's jurisdiction for one year, instead of the open-ended immunity sought earlier by the Bush administration.
Some nations of the Security Council welcomed the latest U.S. offer. But the proposal threatened to provoke a split between the administration and a group of prominent U.S. senators.
In a letter sent last night to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Republican Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina and John W. Warner and George Allen of Virginia, and Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia argued that nothing less than a permanent exemption was satisfactory.
A participant said the letter was prompted by a report yesterday in The Washington Times that the administration expected to reach an agreement with other council members by Monday, ending the threat that a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina would be shut down.
The treaty that created the International Criminal Court, which came into force July 1, already permits the Security Council to defer any investigation for 12 months.
The Bush administration had been seeking language in a resolution that would make such deferrals automatic for U.N. peacekeepers, including automatic renewals every year. Under the compromise announced yesterday, a new vote would be required each year to renew the deferral.
The new U.S. draft also was proposed as a stand-alone resolution rather than an insertion into a resolution renewing the mission in Bosnia, which expires Monday. This would avoid having a crisis over each of the 15 peacekeeping missions as they come up for renewal.
But the senators objected even to the tougher language being proposed earlier by the administration.
"For the sake of our service members and officials, now and in the future, the [Bosnia] mandate renewal must completely and permanently immunize American peacekeeping personnel from the ICC jurisdiction," they wrote.
"In our view, such a solution would not only fail to provide the comprehensive, permanent solution needed to ensure immunity of Americans involved in all U.N. peacekeeping activities, but would constitute an improper acknowledgement of the court's jurisdiction over American persons."
Mr. Helms is the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Mr. Warner holds the same position at the Armed Services Committee. Mr. Allen serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Mr. Miller is on Veterans Affairs.
The new U.S. draft, like the previous language, seeks to exempt from investigation soldiers, civilians and officials from countries that have not chosen to join the court. The deferral would apply to all participants in military actions established or authorized by the council.
The new language says "that the ICC for a 12-month period shall not commence or proceed with any investigations or prosecutions involving current or former officials or personnel for acts or omissions relating to U.N. established or authorized operations."
More difficult for other council members to accept, the draft also "expresses the intention to renew the request each July 1 for further 12-month periods for as long as may be necessary" and prohibits U.N. member states from taking "inconsistent" action.
European diplomats last night praised the 11th-hour effort but stopped short of endorsing it before their governments had a chance to review the language.
British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock called it "a very fair basis for discussions." French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte said it was "a step in the right direction, but for us, more steps are needed."
U.S. diplomats have dropped an earlier demand that governments retain the exclusive right to prosecute their own citizens on charges of human rights abuses.
Nations backing the court argued earlier yesterday during an acrimonious public debate that the proposed compromise gave up too much to the United States.
"No one in this room believes the U.S. government and the highly reputable American legal system would turn a blind eye to allegations of such grievous crimes," said Canadian Ambassador Paul Heinbecker, who warned the council against overstepping its mandate by trying to rewrite international treaties.
The International Criminal Court entered into force on July 1 and has been joined by 136 nations. However, many American officials object to the prospect of a foreign court trying U.S. soldiers for genocide, crimes against humanity and other gross human rights abuses.
They see the ICC as unconstitutional and an erosion of U.S. sovereignty.
Speaking at the open council meeting yesterday, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte repeated that the United States does not support the ICC and does not intend to become a party to it. He also implied that unless Washington wins explicit immunities, all 15 existing peacekeeping missions will be jeopardized.
"It certainly will affect our ability to contribute peacekeepers," he said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide