US Divides to Conquer ICC

Radio Netherlands, Sep. 2, 2002

The new International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is yet to hear a case, is being undermined by US moves to exempt its soldiers from prosecution. In the latest development, Italy and Britain have admitted they are considering signing so-called “article 98” agreements with Washington agreeing not to hand over US citizens to the ICC.

Romania became the first country to sign an exemption agreement with the US last month. At the time, the European Union strongly criticised the decision. Now, with key members Italy and the UK openly considering similar concessions, EU solidarity on the court is in ruins.

US Withdrawal
Despite initially signing the 1998 Rome Statute which set up the ICC, the US withdrew its approval for the treaty in May this year, and has since attempted to undermine the court at every turn.

Washington opposes the ICC, which opened two months ago, on the grounds that enemies of the US may use the war crimes court to indict Americans mischievously.

The differences in opinion on how to handle US hostility to the ICC emerged in an informal EU meeting in Denmark at the weekend. Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner spoke out openly about the need for a common position. “There is a fundamental need for everyone to be open to prosecution . . . it is important that there is no immunity,” she said.

But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy was “oriented” towards an agreement with the US, and UK also admitted it was attempting to work out a compromise with the Americans.

Peter van Ham, an EU policy expert from the Clingendael Institute in The Netherlands, says exemptions by Italy and the UK could have a devastating effect on the ICC.

“There are lawyers who say there is an opportunity for the US and the ICC to move around this very prickly issue. But I think for the status of a very young criminal court which has to still prove its value and prove its strength, it [the UK and Italy signing agreements] would be very damaging. It would mean that the US, by pressuring its allies, could get around the ICC, and be the only country whose peace-keeping operations would be immune for any prosecution.”

Shown Up
Mr van Ham says the move shows up those countries that are willing to placate the US at all costs and those who are willing to challenge American authority.

“I [am] surprised and disappointed this has happened. On the first of July, when the court had its first day, the EU made a very strong case . . . complaining that the US was not going ahead and ratifying the treaty, and also pressuring the countries who are in line to join the EU not to give into US pressure to sign exemtpions.”

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)