Congress Seeks to Curb International
by Colum Lynch
The Washington Post, November
Measure would threaten overseas aid cuts
to push immunity for U.S. troops.
United Nations - The Republican-controlled
Congress has stepped up its campaign to curtail the power of the
International Criminal Court, threatening to cut hundreds of millions
of dollars in economic aid to governments that refuse to sign
immunity accords shielding U.S. personnel from being surrendered
to the tribunal.
The move marks an escalation in U.S.
efforts to ensure that the first world criminal court can never
judge American citizens for crimes committed overseas. More than
two years ago, Congress passed the American Servicemembers' Protection
Act, which cut millions of dollars in military assistance to many
countries that would not sign the Article 98 agreements, as they
are known, that vow not to transfer to the court U.S. nationals
accused of committing war crimes abroad.
A provision inserted into a $338
billion government spending bill for 2005 would bar the transfer
of assistance money from the $2.52 billon economic support fund
to a government "that is a party" to the criminal court
but "has not entered into an agreement with the United States"
to bar legal proceedings against U.S. personnel. The House and
Senate are to vote on the budget Dec. 8.
Congress's action may affect U.S.
Agency for International Development programs designed to promote
peace, combat drug trafficking, and promote democracy and economic
reforms in poor countries. For instance, the cuts could jeopardize
as much as $250 million to support economic growth and reforms
in Jordan, $500,000 to promote democracy and fight drug traffickers
in Venezuela, and about $9 million to support free trade and other
initiatives with Mexico.
The legislation includes a national
security waiver that would allow President Bush to exempt members
of NATO and other key allies, including Australia, Egypt, Israel,
Japan, Jordan, Argentina, South Korea, New Zealand or Taiwan.
The waiver was added to the provision, which Rep. George R. Nethercutt
(R-Wash.) introduced into a House appropriations bill in July,
after the State Department raised concern that the cuts could
undermine key programs that advance U.S. foreign policy.
State Department lawyers are studying
the language to determine what portion of the economic support
fund could be withheld under the law. But congressional staff
members say the legislation would disproportionately hurt small
countries with limited strategic importance to the United States.
The criminal court was established
by treaty at a 1998 conference in Rome to prosecute perpetrators
of the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and
crimes against humanity. The treaty has been signed by 139 countries
and ratified by 97. Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina
has begun investigating widespread human rights violations in
Congo and Uganda.
The Clinton administration signed
the treaty in December 2000, but the Bush administration renounced
it in May 2001, citing concern that an international prosecutor
might conduct frivolous investigations and trials against American
officials, troops and foreign nationals deployed overseas on behalf
of the United States. "This is a body based in The Hague
where unaccountable judges and prosecutors could pull our troops,
our diplomats up for trial," Bush said in his first campaign
debate with Sen. John F. Kerry.
Since the tribunal began in July
2002, the Bush administration has been struggling to secure guarantees
from governments to sign the pacts exempting U.S. citizens from
investigation or prosecution by the court. The congressional cuts
would not affect 96 countries that have signed the immunity pacts.
Other governments, including Jordan,
have been trying to negotiate the terms of an agreement with the
United States that would not violate their own laws that bar them
from undermining the court. Jordan's King Abdullah, who supports
the tribunal, is expected to discuss the issue with Bush in Washington
But Washington's key European allies,
including Britain, France and Germany, have opposed the U.S. effort
on grounds that it undermines the treaty. In June, the Europeans
spearheaded a campaign to block the United States from securing
passage of a U.N. security resolution extending immunity to U.S.
citizens in U.N.-sanctioned peacekeeping operations.
The court's advocates maintain that
the Bush administration's fears of frivolous prosecution are overstated.
They say that the tribunal was created to hold future despots
in the ranks of Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi Amin accountable
for mass killings, not to pursue U.S. officials responsible for
military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They note that the
court will take on cases only when a state is unable or unwilling
to do so.
"The continuing attempt to cut
aid to countries that do not support the International Criminal
Court is unnecessary; the U.S. doesn't have anything to worry
about," said Sally Eberhardt, a spokeswoman for the Coalition
for the International Criminal Court. "There are enough safeguards
built into the treaty, which the United States helped draft."
Brian Thompson, a specialist for
the court at Citizens for Global Solutions in Washington, said,
"They are taking another swing at international relations
that I think are already damaged by cutting off economic support
programs that promote American ideals."
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