International Courts and
United States opts out
Amnesty International USA
Letter to members, June 17, 2002
More than a half a century after it was
proposed in the ruins of World War II, the world's first permanent
court for the prosecution of those who commit crimes against humanity
has finally become a reality.
With its ratification by more than 60
nations on April 11, the International Criminal Court has been
granted the power to prosecute individuals responsible for the
most horrific crimes under international law: genocide, war crimes
and other crimes against humanity.
The Court is a promise to millions of
victims that those who condone or direct such barbarism will now
be brought to justice. It fills the gap in the law of nations
that allowed Idi Amin and Pol Pot, among others, to evade justice.
Yet one nation was conspicuously absent
from the community of nations hailing this human rights milestone-the
United States. Indeed, the nation that was originally a leader
in the movement to create a permanent International Criminal Court
may now well be its most virulent opponent.
How can the United States, of all nations,
stand against the advancement of international justice? How can
the United States, of all nations, oppose a court that will help
make possible the systematic prosecution of suspected perpetrators
of human rights crimes like Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden?
And what has happened to reverse America's commitment to an interdependent
world that the United States, more than any nation, fostered?
The U. S. helped create and has worked
successfully with many multilateral and regional institutions
including the United Nations, NATO, the International Monetary
Fund and the Organization of American States, among others. And
the positive influence of the United States encouraged the establishment
of War Crimes Tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
But many actions of the Bush Administration
have threatened to change that tradition. Stating repeatedly that
his Administration's decisions in regard to global participation
must be made "in the American interest," President Bush
has strongly pushed the new and dangerous doctrine of American
exceptionalism-a "my way or the highway" philosophy
wherein the rules that apply to the rest of the world do not apply
to the U. S.
The message to the world is clear: as
the world's pre-eminent power, the U.S. will do what it wants,
where it wants and with whom it wants, regardless of global consequences.
Below are just some of the critical areas
in which Amnesty International is pressing the U. S. government
to join with other nations in the protection of human rights.
The International Criminal Court:
It is no small irony that the nation that
championed the Nuremberg trials and helped bring about the indictment
and capture of Slobodan Milosevic now stands as the single greatest
opponent of the International Criminal Court.
It is astounding that anyone would suggest
that it is in the U. S. national interest to isolate itself from
an unprecedented global attempt to hold human rights criminals
accountable for their crimes. But this is precisely what some
in the Administration and Congress have argued.
What better way to lend credibility to
the likes of Saddam Hussein than for the United States to play
by one set of rules while demanding that other countries adhere
to a different set? What better way to undermine the rule of law,
to say nothing of our stated principles? Perhaps, most .importantly,
how many U. S. citizens' lives and lives of innocent people around
the world will ultimately be saved if we have an effective mechanism
for bringing tyrants to justice?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child:
This historic document recognizing the
inalienable rights of children has been ratified by every nation
in the world with the exception of the U. S. and Somalia.
The Convention has been an instrument
of great change in those nations that have ratified it. Turkey,
for example, since ratifying the Convention, has increased the
duration of compulsory education, implemented a program to combat
illiteracy, and addressed school preparation, health care and
nutrition for children who live in disadvantaged areas.
The recent UN General Assembly Special
Session on Children was to have used the Convention as the framework
for setting standards which protect and advance the rights of
children. Instead, U. S. objections to a ban on the execution
of individuals who were convicted as minors brought the session
to a near grinding halt. Rather than making the ground-breaking
progress that children's rights advocates had hoped would be achieved,
the Special Session did little more than acknowledge the existence
of the Convention.
The World Arms Trade:
Last year, an Amnesty International report,
Human Rights Abuses with Small Arms, carefully documented that
governments and armed opposition groups in over 100 countries
use small arms in the violent abuse of human rights.
But despite the evidence demonstrating
the deadly impact of the small arms trade in nations such as Rwanda
and Bosnia, the Bush Administration refused to support a UN Conference
seeking to ban small arms trafficking, alleging it interfered
with the United States' constitutional guarantees on the right
to bear arms. The end result was that the Bush Administration,
with support from the National Rifle Association and its cronies
in the arms industry, worked to block efforts to stop the flow
of arms into some of the world's most deadly conflicts.
The International Ban on Landmines:
Anti-personnel landmines kill or maim
several thousand people each month. Some are soldiers. Most are
civilians. Many are children. And to date some 139 governments
have signed and 107 have ratified the historic treaty that establishes
a comprehensive ban on the use of these mines in all circumstances.
By destroying their stockpiles of landmines, and stopping their
export of these weapons to other nations, the parties to the Mine
Ban Treaty have helped reduce this number by nearly 11,000 casualties
The Clinton Administration refused to
join the Mine Ban Treaty, claiming that anti-personnel mines were
needed to protect the Republic of Korea from invasion by North
Korea. But even some military commanders now consider these anti-personnel
mines not only outmoded but a real and deadly liability to U.
S. troops. It is time for the United States to join the global
community and "fast track" U. S. accession to the Mine
The Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW):
More than 160 nations have ratified CEDAW,
yet the United States joins Iran and Sudan as one of those few
nations who have not accepted this important treaty.
CEDAW has encouraged the development of
citizenship rights in Botswana and Japan, inheritance rights in
Tanzania, and property rights and political participation in Costa
Rica. CEDAW has also fostered development of domestic violence
laws in Turkey, Nepal, South Africa and the Republic of Korea
and anti-trafficking laws in Ukraine and Moldova.
The refusal of the U. S. government to
ratify CEDAW not only undermines anti-domestic violence efforts
in this country, it also encourages other nations to ignore CEDAW's
mandate and their obligations under it.
Rogue State: United States