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Canada, other allies blast immunity push: Bush administration wants peacekeepers shielded from prosecutions of war crimes

22 June 2002

Washington's efforts to shield U.S. soldiers on UN peacekeeping missions from being hauled before the International Criminal Court are opposed by Canada and other U.S. allies.

"We urge the Security Council to reject the U.S. proposals," Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Nancy Bergeron said yesterday in Ottawa as U.S. diplomats at the United Nations attempted to win support for a resolution giving their soldiers blanket immunity from war-crimes charges.

Fears that U.S. President George W. Bush's administration will recall its peacekeepers in the Balkans and elsewhere eased yesterday when a vote on renewing the Bosnian civil-police mandate was deferred. But the issue seems likely to bedevil relations between Washington and its closest allies, with Mr. Bush's government seeking military help in its war against international terrorism at the same time it demands that U.S. soldiers receive special treatment by the international court.

Washington has also asked the governments of Bosnia and East Timor to grant U.S. peacekeeping personnel exemption from prosecution, which host countries are allowed to do under the treaty creating the court.

Britain and France, strong proponents of the court, also have sought exemptions for their soldiers serving as peacekeepers in Afghanistan, part of a profusion of double standards and exemptions threatening to overshadow the court, to be based at The Hague, the Netherlands.

(The court officially comes into being on July 1, but it isn't expected to be operating until next year.)

It remains unclear why countries need exemptions if they are willing to prosecute their own soldiers for alleged crimes.

The treaty establishing the court gives signatories the primary right to prosecute if they are "able and willing."

But senior U.S. officials said that they fear the court might attempt to enforce jurisdiction.

"We ought to be exempt from that so there isn't that kind of political harassment that can take place unfairly, particularly when you know you're fighting the global war on terror," U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday.

Ottawa, a staunch supporter of the ICC, believes that no Canadian troops would face prosecution, because they would first face criminal or disciplinary procedures under Canadian military justice.

"I'm confident [that] in the case of any actions that were improper in military matters, any of our troops would be prosecuted by our own courts," Foreign Minister Bill Graham recently said.

Mr. Bush's administration, by comparison, is waging a three-pronged assault against the International Criminal Court, the first permanent tribunal to prosecute war crimes, including that of genocide.

First, it renounced former U.S. president Bill Clinton's signature on the treaty.

Then it sought specific exemptions from countries hosting UN peacekeeping missions where U.S. personnel are serving.

Finally, it has drafted a UN Security Council resolution that would grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution by the ICC while serving on UN missions.

The Security Council resolution won't be considered until later this month, but it is expected to face stiff opposition.

Three of the five permanent Security Council member states - Britain, France and Russia - have signed the ICC treaty. The fourth, China, has yet to sign but has opposed a U.S. exemption.

Paul Koring, Washington
Published by the Globe and Mail © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.

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