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U.S. Granted Immunity for Peacekeepers

United Nations: The Security Council gives Americans a one-year renewable exemption from an international court's authority.

July 13, 2002|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — After two weeks of back-room wrangling and acrimonious debate, the U.S. muscled through a Security Council resolution Friday granting American peacekeepers a renewable one-year exemption from prosecution or investigation by the new International Criminal Court.

Though the United States did not secure the permanent immunity it originally demanded, the unanimously adopted resolution "achieved the kind of protection for a one-year period that we were seeking," said John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador here.

The one-year period begins retroactively from July 1, the date on which a treaty creating the international court went into effect. The resolution states the council's intention to order further 12-month exemptions each year "for as long as may be necessary."

"We would have preferred that this protection were for an indefinite period of time," Negroponte said. The U.S. "will use the coming year to seek the additional protections we need," among them bilateral pacts with countries where U.S. peacekeepers are based.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 18, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 9 inches; 331 words Type of Material: Correction
International court--A story Saturday in Section A about a U.N. Security Council vote on shielding American peacekeepers from prosecution included an incorrect spelling of a U.S. spokesman's name. He is Richard A. Grenell.

"The president of the United States is determined to protect our citizens--soldiers and civilians, peacekeepers and officials--from the International Criminal Court," Negroponte added. "We are especially concerned that Americans sent overseas as soldiers, risking their lives to keep the peace or to protect us all from terrorism and other threats, be themselves protected from unjust or politically motivated charges."

The resolution's passage, 15 to 0, erased a U.S. threat to block U.N.-authorized peacekeeping missions around the world.

The court was set up to try cases of genocide, war crimes and gross human rights abuses that go unprosecuted by the suspects' own countries. The U.S., which is not among the at least 139 countries that have signed the treaty, believes that the tribunal steps on its sovereignty.

Supporters of the court here immediately decried the council vote as an unwelcome and possibly illegal infringement of the new tribunal's authority.

"We think this is a sad day for the United Nations," said Paul Heinbecker, the U.N. ambassador from Canada, a driving force behind the new court. "We are extremely disappointed at the outcome. We do not think it is the business of the Security Council to interpret treaties that are negotiated somewhere else."

But European council members, bruised by the hard-line U.S. stance, defended the measure as a compromise that saved the peacekeeping missions from diplomatic and financial abandonment by the world's sole superpower.

Council members "had to make a decision that preserved two very important institutions--the newly born criminal court and its integrity, and the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations," said Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's U.N. ambassador, who was praised by council colleagues and denounced by court advocates for his pivotal role in securing the agreement.

The U.S. last week vetoed a routine extension of two U.N.-mandated peacekeeping missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina after it was unable to secure an exemption for U.S. personnel there from court prosecutions, and it vowed to block other such mandates unless its demands were met.

Immediately after the adoption Friday of the resolution, the council voted to renew the Bosnia missions.

The resolution covers 16 missions that are led directly by the United Nations, such as its police training program in Bosnia, as well as the large forces in Bosnia and Yugoslavia's Kosovo province that are authorized by the world body but deployed and commanded by NATO.

The U.S. has only about 700 police and observers assigned to U.N. missions, but it has more than 5,000 combat troops with NATO forces in the Balkans.

European defenders of the resolution contend that it represents a significant American retreat, with U.S. peacekeepers now shielded from court action for a year rather than in perpetuity.

"There is no preventive, permanent and general immunity, and this for us is what is most important," said Jean-David Levitte, France's U.N. ambassador, who until Friday had been the strongest opponent on the council to the U.S. position.

U.S. diplomats quietly but insistently challenged that interpretation, saying Washington had achieved its main objective here: getting council support for what they described as the first stage of a campaign to protect all U.S. personnel abroad from the new court.

"This provides temporary immunity not just for the United States, but for all countries that are not party to the treaty, and that was important to us," said Richard C. Grinnell, the spokesman for the U.S. mission here.

More vociferously, many staunch opponents of the U.S. policy said much the same thing.

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