US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Pierre Prosper, says the US wants exemptions from War Crimes Court to benefit all its citizens.

America is negotiating with Britain and other European Union countries to expand blanket immunity to cover civilian as well as military personnel who might fall foul of the new international war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

The move is expected to seriously undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which opened for business in July.

The US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, said yesterday that 16 countries had, or were about to sign, bilateral agreements giving America the right to have US citizens accused of atrocities sent home rather than be tried at the new court.

It had been thought that America was only seeking immunity for its military personnel but now it is clear that Washington wants a much wider agreement.

The new court, which is backed by 137 countries and has been ratified by more than 70, will be a permanent forum for the prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the US has stubbornly refused to sign the treaty which establishes the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Mr Prosper said that the bilateral agreements would extend to "present, former and future servicemen and officials". But he added that America was also looking to include all its citizens.

He added: "We are discussing it with the states as we move along. We do have concerns of US citizens; we have a responsibility as an administration to protect the overall interests of the United States and that will include US citizens.

"What we are asking is that if there is a crime then that person not go to the ICC.

"But we believe in the rule of the law and we will ensure that the person is investigated and properly prosecuted."

Mr Prosper, who was meeting in London yesterday with British Government officials to discuss terrorism and the future of the ICC, said the Rome Treaty was "flawed."

The US, he said, was opposed to the idea of the ICC being able "to re- assert jurisdiction" over American or other citizens accused of war crimes after they had been cleared of any wrongdoing by their own domestic courts.

"The ICC could just disagree with it the domestic court's decision just because they did not like it ... or you could have the situation where a judge, in his or her expert opinion, decided that a particular piece of information was not admissible."

The future of the 564 al-Qa'ida suspects held by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had still not been decided, said Mr Prosper.

"The suspects pose a threat to the United States and the international community.

"Our first and foremost responsibility must be to the question of the threat.

"The last thing we want to do is to put someone back on the streets who, on the next plane out of Heathrow or any other airport around the world, flies into some tower in any City anywhere in the world. There are lives at stake."

Mr Prosper said each of the detainees posed a different level of threat but would not give any specific details on any individual cases. He said some of the alleged Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters had made confessions and pledged to continue the fight against America and its allies.

No decision had been taken as to where any of the suspects should stand trial. But Mr Prosper confirmed that criminal proceedings might still be brought in the US under the rules of a federal or military court which might have powers to impose capital punishment.

He also said the American administration had held discussions with the UK Government on the possibility of the British suspects being tried in this country.

Source: The Independent (London), Foreign News, Pg. 15 - 21Sep02.

International Criminal Court

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This document has been published on 04Oct02 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights