US seeks UN exemption from international court

22 May 2004, Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: The United States is moving to renew the exemption for its peacekeepers from prosecution by a global criminal court, an action human rights groups say is unjustified so soon after the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

A UN Security Council resolution is expected to be adopted this weekend for the third consecutive year after a public meeting called by a dozen UN members.

Among the 15 council nations at least four - Brazil, Spain, Germany and France - are expected to abstain. But US officials were confident they would reach the minimum nine votes needed for adoption.

The new International Criminal Court, the first permanent global war crimes tribunal, was set up to try perpetrators for the world's worst atrocities - genocide, mass war crimes and systematic human rights abuses.

It went into operation in The Hague, Netherlands, this year and is investigating massacres in the Congo and in northern Uganda. Its statutes were signed by 135 nations and ratified by 94 and its money comes mainly from European Union nations.

The Bush administration maintains the court could be used for politically motivated or frivolous suits against US troops. In addition to the resolution, Washington has signed bilateral agreements with 89 countries barring prosecution of American citizens and those under US contract.

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch said the United States was trying to push the resolution through quickly, after only 48 hours notice, so the issue would not overshadow efforts to get council backing for a resolution on the transition in Iraq.

"Given the recent revelations from Abu Ghraib prison, the US government has picked one hell of a moment to ask for special treatment on war crimes," said Dicker, director of the group's international justice programme.

"The UN Security Council should not grant special favors to any country, including the United States," he said.

US officials said everyone knew Washington would attempt to renew the resolution before it expired in June.

"It certainly is not 48 hours notice. It was more like 48 months. No one should be surprised at the US position on the International Criminal Court," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for US Ambassador John Negroponte.

And James Cunningham, the US deputy adviser, told the Security Council on Wednesday that the abuse of prisoners in Iraq by US soldiers was "shameful" and would be investigated.

The draft resolution introduced by the United States on Wednesday would place US troops and officials serving in UN-approved missions beyond the reach of the court.

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