Radio Netherlands World Service, July 2, 2003
by our Internet desk, 2 June 2003
The United States has ploughed millions of dollars into Colombia to help with the war on drugs and the fight against leftist guerrillas. But now Washington is cutting that military aid – because of a dispute about the new International Criminal Court (ICC) here in the Netherlands. Unlike some other nations, Colombia hasn’t agreed to exempt US nationals from extradition to the court.
The US is vehemently opposed to the ICC. It fears that US military and other officials will be indicted by the Hague-based court for political reasons.
Washington has therefore signed bilateral deals with around 50 governments giving US nationals immunity from prosecution by the international court, which is to try cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
So far, 90 countries have signed and ratified the 1998 Rome statute, which created the ICC.
Colombia is one of 35 countries punished by the US for their failure or refusal to give US citizens immunity from the tribunal by a July 1 deadline.
The suspension of military and financial aid also affects other US allies like Brazil, South Africa and the Baltic states as well as NATO hopefuls such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Exempted from the sanctions are the 19 members of NATO, as well as the US-designated “major non-NATO allies”, such as Australia, Egypt, Israel, Japan and the Philippines.
Lotte Leicht of Human Rights Watch says it’s just another example of Washington bullying countries that rely on its aid:
“The tactics used by the US is not really primarily aimed at protecting American citizens from potential prosecutions by the international criminal court. It’s part of an overall effort to undermine the court altogether. So, in a certain way you can talk about ideology gone amok. But it doesn´t make much sense. It seems somewhat like shooting yourself in the foot to withdraw assistance to countries such as Colombia – a country where the US is profoundly engaged, also in terms of military assistance.”
“What we are looking at now – and I think that this is important – are the misconceptions about what kind of aid is actually being cut. Because as we’re seeing aid being cut, we’re seeing other assistance being rerouted through other budget lines and through anti-drug budget lines in the case of Colombia.”
RN: “Your organisation has demanded that these sort of tactics by the United States stop. Do you think that the US pressure will have an impact on countries like Colombia who need this military aid?”
“We hope that Colombia will stay strong on this and we hope that other parties like the European Union will now once again express their support for Colombia. Because it’s about far more than just military assistance; it’s really about fundamental questions like where we want to be ten years from now. Do we want to be in a world where one superpower has, through bullying and threatening tactics, undermined international treaties step by step in various ways, or do we want to be in a world where international treaty law still matters and still is a significant component in regulating rights and wrongs?”
RN: “It there still a purpose in pursuing an international criminal court when you don’t have the support of a state of such prime importance as the United States?”
“The United States is very important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all to have the US on board the international criminal court. We would have wished the US to decide to stay outside the court for the time being just like other countries have done.”
“But the United States has declared war against this court and has gone out of its way to undermine it altogether. But I don’t think it will succeed and I think this is actually the reason why it’s engaging now in such aggressive tactics as we’re seeing.”
“Yes, it’s still worthwhile to have this court. I think we’ll see that very soon after the tribunal has started work on important cases. The first case is likely to come from the violations that we are now observing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is a state party to the court. Then we´ll see the purpose for which this court was established. And that will become clear with or without US support.”