U.S. Confronts EU On War Crimes Court; Immunity Pact Issue Threatens Relations

UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- The Bush administration charged the European Union with actively undermining U.S. efforts to shield Americans from prosecution by the International Criminal Court and warned that the impact on transatlantic relations will be "very damaging" if the EU does not stop.

The unusually tough warning, which was issued in a confidential note to EU governments last week, threatens to complicate the United States' relations with its European allies as a June 25 summit in Washington approaches. It also comes as the United States formally tabled a Security Council resolution today that would extend immunity for at least one year to Americans serving in U.N.-authorized military operations from prosecution by the world's first permanent war crimes court.

The United States has been struggling for a year to negotiate accords barring individual governments around the globe from surrendering Americans to the war crimes court, which went into force on July 1, 2002. So far, the United States has signed 37 immunity pacts, primarily with poor, small countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

The U.S. effort has encountered stiff resistance from European allies, who believe that the terms set by the United States would undermine the power of the court before it has tried its first case.

U.S. officials and one European diplomat said Germany, a stalwart supporter of the court, has led European opposition to the U.S. campaign. But the U.S. memorandum noted that there have been reports that a number of EU member ambassadors have "lobbied against U.S. bilateral efforts" outside of the extended European community. "The tone is equally aggressive on both sides," the European diplomat said.

The United States accused the 15-member European Union of actively lobbying countries, including the 10 future members of the union, not to sign the U.S.-drafted agreements. The United States warned that recent improvement in relations with France, Germany and other countries that opposed the war in Iraq could be undone.

"This will undercut all our efforts to repair and rebuild the transatlantic relationship just as we are taking a turn for the better after a number of difficult months," according to the note, known as a démarche, which was obtained by The Washington Post. "We are dismayed that the European Union would actively seek to undermine U.S. efforts."

The dispute centers on a provision of the 1998 Rome Statute, which established the war crimes court. The provision allows states that have ratified the treaty to seek immunity for their troops -- through bilateral accords known as Article 98 agreements -- in countries where the troops are serving.

Britain, France and other European governments have signed such agreements with Afghanistan, shielding thousands of European peacekeepers from surrender by Afghan authorities to the Hague-based court, which has been ratified by 90 nations. But the EU published guidelines last year that set limits on the scope of immunity that can be granted to individuals serving in a foreign military operation without undermining the international court. For instance, the exemption "should cover only persons present on the territory" of a nation that signed the agreement.

European officials maintain that the U.S. immunity pacts go too far, granting broad immunity to all U.S. citizens -- including stationed troops, government officials in Washington and international contract workers -- for crimes committed anywhere in the world.

U.S. officials grew alarmed when the European Union issued a letter in April to the new EU members urging them to honor the Sept. 30, 2002, guidelines, according to Richard Dicker, an expert on the court at the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. "The European Union is asserting the principles they have adopted and urging those states that want to join the EU to keep those principles in mind," he said. "It's the U.S. putting those governments that have ratified the treaty between a rock and a hard place."

The United States argued in the démarche that its efforts to shield Americans from prosecution are consistent with the ICC treaty: "The EU guidelines for Article 98 agreements are inconsistent with the Rome Statute. We disagree. We continue to believe that our language does not contradict or undermine the ICC."

[Source: By Colum Lynch, Washington Post Staff Writer - Washingtonpost - 10Jun03]

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This document has been published el 21sep03 por el Equipo Nizkor y Derechos Human Rights - In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.