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US threatens to pull out of UN peacekeeping

21 June 2002

To the dismay of its allies, the United States yesterday threatened to withdraw from United Nations peacekeeping missions if its troops are not exempted from the reach of a new global criminal court.

As part of a US onslaught against the court, the Bush Administration introduced a draft Security Council resolution that would exclude all missions, military and civilian, fielded by the United Nations or even endorsed by the world body, such as the Nato-led troops in Kosovo or Bosnia.

"We will not put American men and women under the reach of the International Criminal Court while serving in a United Nations peacekeeping operation," said US representative Richard Williamson.

A US official said if American personnel were not protected there would "no longer be US peacekeepers".

No one in the 15-member council agrees with the American stance on the court, the world's first permanent tribunal to try the worst crimes: genocide, war crimes and systematic, gross human rights abuses.

Supporters of the court consider it the most important development in international law since the Nazi war crimes tribunal in Nuremberg after World War II.

"I don't know if there is a way [of solving the impasse]," said Norwegian Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby.

Others wondered if the US stand was final.

The treaty establishing the court has been ratified by 67 nations, including all 15 European Union members and Canada.

In the Security Council, Britain, France, Ireland, Norway, Bulgaria and Mauritius have ratified it.

All other members, except for China and Singapore, have signed the treaty and several said they would ratify soon.

The court is not retroactive. No crime committed before July 1 can be prosecuted by the tribunal when it begins functioning in The Hague, Netherlands, next year.

Prosecutions are only valid if national courts are unable or unwilling to bring perpetrators to justice.

Only a country that has ratified the treaty can make a complaint against its citizens, or those of other nations for crimes committed on its soil.

But Williamson said he would not be swayed.

"Obviously the whole spectrum of UN peacekeeping operations will have to be reviewed if we are unsuccessful at getting the protection we demand be in place," he said.

The Bush Administration and many members of the US Congress oppose the court as a threat to national sovereignty. They also fear that US officials and soldiers could be subject to political prosecutions, which Europeans say is unlikely.

The US draft resolution stipulates that the responsibility for investigating any crimes should lie with "member states contributing personnel participating in operations established or authorised by the UN Security Council".

UN peacekeeping missions usually have such immunity in bilateral agreements but Washington wants to make it airtight.

The United States has only about 700 personnel in UN missions: police, civilians and a handful of military observers, but no combat troops.

It does have 5200 troops in Kosovo and 2500 soldiers in Bosnia outside the UN command, which it wants exempted.

The Security Council this week intends to renew the UN mission in Bosnia, which has ratified the court treaty. A separate amendment was submitted by Washington to exclude the UN personnel and Nato-led peacekeepers there.

Richard Dicker, of Human Rights Watch, called the American stance an "ideological jihad".

Published by Reuters (New York) (c) Reuters

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