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Attacking Aid Staff Is War Crime, U.N. Says

August 27, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday declaring that attacks against aid workers from the world body and others agencies should be considered war crimes, one week after the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

The vote capped a tense standoff between Mexico, a co-sponsor, and the United States over a reference in the measure to the authority of the International Criminal Court, a body whose jurisdiction the U.S. refuses to acknowledge. U.S. officials had said they would not support the resolution unless Mexico dropped that section, but Washington found itself in the awkward position of potentially having to reject the same themes of improving security that it has been promoting.

The measure had been on ice since the U.S. rebuffed it in April, but the Baghdad bombing spurred Mexico to revive it.

After several days of sour negotiations, Mexico and its five co-sponsors -- Bulgaria, France, Germany, Russia and Syria -- agreed to take out the section. They settled on a more general reference to "existing prohibitions under international law" that define targeted attacks on aid workers and peacekeepers as war crimes.

But the new resolution goes further, urging nations to adopt their own laws to ensure the prosecution of assailants who attack humanitarian workers and to treat such violence as a crime against humanity.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, just returned from the funeral of his close friend and top aide in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, welcomed the 15-0 vote. Vieira de Mello was killed in last week's blast.

"I am very grateful for that resolution, particularly given what happened last week and the tense situation that we are living in," he said after the council session. "U.N. personnel often work in dangerous and difficult places, and they need protection. And governments have to commit themselves to bring to account those who attack these innocent and unarmed civilian humanitarian workers."

Annan has often spoken of the way modern warfare, frequently waged by warlords and terrorists, victimizes civilians.

"It is a crime against humanity," he said, "and these individuals may not be able to run away in the expectation that impunity will be allowed to stand."

Diplomats also celebrated the resolution's unanimous adoption but lamented that its passage became so politicized. Resentments still smoldered among council members from earlier this month when Washington tagged a wide-ranging U.S. exemption from ICC prosecution onto an emergency deployment of forces to Liberia.

In turn, the United States felt ambushed by the sudden revival of a measure it had rejected months ago, council diplomats said. But a product of the wrangling may be wording that will help avoid a recurring fight in the future over the ICC, diplomats said.

"The purpose was not to make any statement about the court," Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser said. "It was to make a statement that attacks against humanitarian workers are a war crime."

Earlier Tuesday, Annan and many of the council diplomats joined about 2,000 U.N. employees in New York in a solemn march to honor their colleagues slain in Iraq. They walked in a circle around a fountain in front of the U.N. headquarters, erected in memory of Dag Hammarskjold, a secretary-general whose plane crashed while he was trying to mediate the Congo crisis in 1961.

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