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U.S. Demands Immunity for Its Peacekeepers

Justice: Washington tells the U.N. it will not participate in missions unless Americans are protected from trials at new international court.

June 20, 2002|WILLIAM ORME | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNITED NATIONS — Continuing its campaign against the new International Criminal Court, the United States declared Wednesday that it would no longer participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions unless the Security Council granted the troops permanent immunity from prosecution by the tribunal.

Such assurances are highly unlikely, given the strong support for the court by even staunch U.S. allies--and given their concern that a blanket exemption for peacekeepers could fatally undermine the tribunal's authority.

The United States is virtually alone on the council in its opposition to the court, which has been ratified by 67 U.N. member states--including all the countries of the European Union--and comes into effect July 1.

But political and financial backing from Washington is generally deemed essential for the success of U.N. peacekeeping operations, and several council members privately expressed dismay at the U.S. move.

"This go-it-alone attitude is bad for the U.S. reputation here," said one European diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Two Resolutions Offered

Only about 700 U.S. citizens--none of them combat troops--are serving in peacekeeping missions under direct U.N. control. But thousands of U.S. troops are deployed in American-led but U.N.-endorsed peacekeeping operations, and Washington is seeking exemptions from international prosecutions for these and similar deployments in the future.

"Obviously, the whole spectrum of United Nations peacekeeping operations will have to be reviewed if we are unsuccessful at getting the protections we demand," Richard S. Williamson, a U.S. diplomat here, told reporters Wednesday.

In two draft resolutions presented to the council Wednesday, the United States outlined the specific legal guarantees it seeks before committing military or civilian personnel to U.N.-authorized peacekeeping operations.

Participants in all U.N.-backed missions would enjoy "immunity from arrest, detention and prosecution with respect to all acts arising out of the operation, and this immunity shall continue after termination of their participation in the operation," states the text of one of the resolutions.

Of greater immediate consequence for the council, the second proposed U.S. resolution would append similar guarantees to the renewal of the U.N. mandate for the peacekeeping force in Bosnia- Herzegovina, which is due to be approved here this week. The resolution extending the Bosnian mission would apply both to a U.N. police training program there and to the NATO-led troops--including 2,500 Americans--who are charged with enforcing the Dayton peace accords.

The Bush administration fears that the court could be used for politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. troops and diplomats abroad. The proposed U.S. amendment would prohibit the "surrender or transfer" of any current or former member of the U.N.-backed forces in Bosnia to any "international tribunal, for any purpose."

Last month, U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte offered a similar amendment to a council motion extending the U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission in East Timor. But the U.S. proposal was withdrawn after it failed to win support from any of the other 14 council members. Nine votes are needed to pass a council resolution.

No U.S. troops are deployed in East Timor, and Negroponte said the United States would have pursued the matter more forcefully if American forces were involved.

"We want to make clear that when we participate in peacekeeping missions, we intend to seek some kind of exception to the International Criminal Court's jurisdiction," Negroponte said later.

U.S. Widely Criticized

The International Criminal Court is empowered to prosecute war crimes, acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed after July 1, but only if the country where the accused is a citizen or resident is judged unwilling or unable to bring the case before a domestic court.

Last month, the Bush administration was roundly criticized by allies here when it annulled the Clinton administration's signature on the treaty creating the court. No other U.N. member state has publicly repudiated the treaty. China and Singapore are the only other non-signatories on the Security Council.

"We've invited input from others, but the bottom line is that the United States will not endanger U.S. citizens by putting them in the reach of an ICC treaty that we have not agreed to," Williamson said Wednesday.

Congress, meanwhile, is close to adopting legislation that would require prior exemptions from International Criminal Court prosecution before the Defense Department sends troops on peacekeeping missions abroad.

The American Servicemembers' Protection Act adopted by the Senate two weeks ago would also ban all U.S. "cooperation" with the International Criminal Court, including providing evidence or witnesses in war crimes prosecutions, and cut off military aid to all court signatories except for North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, Taiwan and other unspecified "major non-NATO allies."

But unlike the House, which passed an almost identical bill, the Senate gave the president the power to waive the act's provisions and commit troops to peacekeeping missions without guaranteed protection from the new court.

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