- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The United States yesterday abandoned its effort to have the U.N. Security Council extend a provision granting U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution in the International Criminal Court. A reluctant Security Council had approved such immunity for U.S. forces on U.N.-approved missions in each of the past two years after the United States threatened to veto U.N. peacekeeping missions. The Bush administration refrained from such a move this time, saying instead it would consider its support for missions case by case. The administration, which opposes the court, withdrew a draft resolution seeking a one-year extension of immunity when it became clear the resolution would not get the nine votes needed on the 15-member council. Diplomats said members were reluctant to endorse the extension after widespread reports of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. “We have decided not to proceed with further consideration of the resolution,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. “We want to avoid a prolonged and divisive debate in the council. We will have to take into account the lack of this resolution as we look at our various obligations and the way we proceed overseas.” Mr. Boucher noted that 90 of the 94 member states of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have signed bilateral agreements with the United States to protect American soldiers on their territory from the court. He said that will be taken into account when Washington decides whether to support particular peacekeeping missions. “We also will have to look at it in terms of staffing and providing Americans to participate in peacekeeping missions — what the risk might be of prosecution by a court to which we’re not party,” he said. The withdrawn resolution would have exempted from prosecution all military and civilian personnel “related to a U.N.-authorized operation,” including U.N. peacekeeping operations, as well as missions endorsed by the Security Council, such as that of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Mr. Boucher pointed out that Iraq has not signed the ICC’s statute, so the court has no jurisdiction on its territory. He declined to speculate what would happen if Iraq’s new interim government or its successor decided to join the tribunal. Afghanistan, where U.S. forces remain engaged against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, is an ICC member but has signed a bilateral agreement with the United States. The administration won the first U.N. exemption as soon as the court’s statute took effect on July 1, 2002, and the council extended it last year. The current exemption expires at the end of the month. At least seven council members, including France, Germany, China and Spain, indicated they would abstain if the resolution was put to a vote, and only Britain said it would support it. Last week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a rare intervention, urging members to oppose the measure, saying it sent an “unfortunate signal anytime — but particularly at this time.” William Pace, head of the New York-based Coalition for the International Criminal Court, called the outcome “a victory for international justice” and said the administration’s concern about prosecution of American peacekeepers “was always exaggerated.” But James Cunningham, the U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said the United States is “the largest contributor to global security and has special, well-known interests in protecting our forces and our officials.” “We believe that our draft and its predecessors fairly meet the concerns of all,” he said. Mr. Boucher said the administration’s handling of the Abu Ghraib scandal showed “that the United States does stand for justice and will itself impose justice on any members of our services who might undertake things that constitute international crimes.” The Hague-based ICC was established to try individuals blamed for the world’s worst atrocities, including genocide, war crimes and systematic human rights abuses. Its chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, announced yesterday that its first case would be an investigation of “grave crimes allegedly committed on the territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

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