Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999 22:56:06 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <>
Subject: U.S. rules out war-crimes trials for its citizens
Article: 71008
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

U.S. to persevere against criminal court

By Paul Lewis, The Globe and Mail, 26 July 1999

In a minority at UN, Washington opposes war-crimes trials for its citizens

The United States is expected to continue its campaign against potential politically inspired warcrimes prosecutions at a conference about the proposed International Criminal Court that is to begin at the United Nations today.

Representatives of about 120 countries that have approved forming such a court have been called to the three-week meeting to discuss outstanding technical issues. Those include the court's rules of evidence and procedure and the precise definition of the crimes it may try under a mandate covering crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and aggression.

But legal experts say they believe the United States will use these discussions to explore ways of shielding U.S. soldiers and officials involved in peacekeeping or enforcement operations like the recent bombing of Yugoslavia from prosecution.

Fear that its citizens might suffer frivolous or politically inspired prosecution even if the United States never accepts the court's jurisdiction led the United States to vote against the treaty setting up the new tribunal, to which 120 countries agreed in Rome last year.

Washington sees the talks as a way to get a foot in the door for changing the court's statutes to protect American nationals, said William Pace, leader of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a group of 800 organizations around the world that support the court. But the statutes are agreed. The others won't change them.

Reed Brody, advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, a watchdog organization that supports the court, said: The bottom line is that the United States wants to immunize its soldiers and policymakers against prosecutors it does not like. The rest of the world is not going to accept this.

Only six other countries voted against the treaty, putting the United States in the company of China, Israel, Iraq, Qatar, Sri Lanka and Sudan.

So far just three countries Senegal, San Marino and Trinidad and Tobago have ratified this treaty, which needs 60 ratifications to go into effect. But 83 countries have signed it including all other NATO members except Turkey and many are moving swiftly toward ratification.

As a result the court could well be functioning in The Hague within three or four years.

The United States has suggested several ways its concerns might be met but so far they have proved unacceptable to the countries that agreed to support the court.

Under one proposal, citizens of countries that reject the court's jurisdiction could only be prosecuted with the consent of their governments. But that means that rogue states could escape justice for their crimes by never signing the treaty.

Another proposal is to require approval for prosecutions by the United Nations Security Council, where the United States has a veto. But so do the other four permanent members China, Russia, Britain and France which means such a rule would greatly widen the potential for political interference in cases brought before the court.

Even if the U.S. administration eventually gets enough assurances to sign the treaty drawn up in Rome, the court will face formidable opponents in the Senate, to which any agreement will be sent for approval.

North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms has already warned that the treaty would be dead on arrival at the Senate foreign affairs committee, of which he is chairman.