International Courts and Conventions:

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 each year.

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 Ban Treaty.


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

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