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International Law Seen at Risk in U.S. Fight with Security Council
Fri Jul 5, 2:39 PM ET

Jim Lobe,OneWorld US

A meeting to be held by major western nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in London next week to discuss United States opposition to the new International Criminal Court (ICC) will underline growing concerns among about how the administration of President George W. Bush ( news - web sites) sees Washington's global role.

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U.S. threats to veto United Nations ( news - web sites) peacekeeping operations (PKOs) unless the UN Security Council gives its troops blanket exemption from prosecutions by the ICC are leading U.S. and European NGOs to take an openly critical stance against the Bush administration.

The organizations have grown increasingly concerned that Washington is not only using leverage on PKOs to attack the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, but also that the administration, emboldened by its unprecedented military power, is breaking loose from the bounds of international law and the post-World War II multilateral system.

"The real reason behind Washington's blackmail [in the Security Council] is the most troubling," according to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), writing in the Financial Times this week. "An increasingly influential faction in the Bush administration believes that U.S. military and economic power is so dominant that the U.S. is no longer served by international law."

While Roth will not be taking part in the London discussions, among others attending the meeting, sponsored by the World Federalist Movement and the OneWorld Trust, include Bill Pace, convener of the global NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court; Pierre Sane, former secretary general of Amnesty International; and Elizabeth May, executive director for the Sierra Club ( news - web sites) of Canada, a major environmental group.

The ICC, whose jurisdiction took legal effect July 1, is the product of the 1998 Rome Statute, an international treaty signed by almost 140 countries and ratified by 76. When it goes into operation at The Hague ( news - web sites), probably early next year, it will have powers to investigate and prosecute war crimes, genocide, and other crimes against humanity.

Former President Bill Clinton signed the Statute in December, 2000, but the Bush administration, in an unprecedented act, formally renounced his signature in May. While, at the time, U.S. officials promised not to "wage war" against the new court, their threats to veto UN PKOs if a blanket exemption from the ICC's jurisdiction was not forthcoming are being widely interpreted as just that.

"As was clear at the time, the 'un-signing' of the ICC treaty by the U.S. was largely symbolic," said Fiona McKay, director of the international justice program at the New York-based Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "As the ICC comes into existence, the U.S. is trying to derail it by attacking international peacekeeping."

Over recent months, Washington has asked the UN Security Council to exempt its personnel attached to UN PKOs in East Timor ( news - web sites) and Bosnia from the ICC's jurisdiction. In June it warned that it would veto the Bosnia mission's extension, as well as other pending missions, if it did not get its way.

Since then, the Bosnia mission's mandate has been temporarily extended three times--the latest to July 15--because other members of the Security Council have rejected U.S. demands, while compromises they have put forward have in turn been rejected by Washington. In a signal of its own determination, however, the Bush administration withdrew its personnel from the East Timor mission.

Washington has argued that, because its military is so active in maintaining peace and security abroad, it risks becoming a "special target" for politically-motivated prosecutions by the ICC.

But the ICC's defenders, including UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan ( news - web sites), argue that such fears are far-fetched given the numerous safeguards built into the Rome Statute, especially the fact that the ICC can take on a case only when a nation shows that it is either unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute the case on its own. Others have noted that Britain, whose troops have served alongside U.S. forces in many recent military campaigns and PKOs, has strongly supported the ICC.

Moreover, the U.S. demand that the Security Council exempt its peacekeepers from the scope of the ICC goes to the heart of international law-making, according to NGOs and Annan, who sent an unusually blunt appeal to Secretary of State Colin Powell ( news - web sites) on Wednesday. "[The U.S. proposal] flies in the face of treaty law since it would force states that have ratified the Rome Statute to accept a resolution that literally amends the treaty," he wrote.

Washington's position, according to some analysts, is particularly worrying because it is the latest of a number controversial actions that weaken international law and multilateral agreements. These include its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol ( news - web sites) to reduce "greenhouse gas" emissions, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, and from talks on control of biological weapons, in addition to its new strategic doctrine of pre-emption and changes in the Nuclear Posture Review on the potential use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

"By threatening the Bosnian UN peacekeeping mission with extinction," according to Heather Hamilton of the World Federalist Association, "the U.S. is blackmailing other UN members, and is attempting to hijack the system of international law the U.S. itself has worked to build up for over 50 years."

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