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UK accused of preparing a deal with America over criminal court
10 July 2002
European nations are deeply concerned that Britain may "sell out" to America in the impasse over the International Criminal Court (ICC).
London is close to agreeing a compromise with Washington that will seriously undermine the war crimes tribunal by giving American forces a blanket immunity, according to senior diplomatic sources.
The future of United Nations peace-keeping operations is at present hanging in the balance over the Bush administration's demand that its troops are given exemption from the court's jurisdiction.
The Americans have already used their Security Council veto to block the renewal of the UN mandate for Bosnia. The vote on the mandate has now been put back until 15 July while negotiations continue in New York.
America is lobbying intensely in the UN, especially among the non-permanent members of the Security Council. A complex manoeuvre, with permanent member Britain abstaining instead of vetoing the proposal, will enable Washington to drive through the exemption clause.
Tony Blair's Government has been one of the most vociferous proponents of the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
However, Britain, which has this month's presidency of the Security Council, is now said to be of the view that an accommodation is inevitable if the peace-keeping missions are to be saved.
According to diplomatic sources, a deal is likely to revolve around the US waiving a demand that its courts retain "exclusive jurisdiction" over its personnel, in return for an agreement that any UN personnel would face an international tribunal only with the permission of the Security Council. The option of the veto will ensure that this will not happen, in effect, without US approval.
The Canadians, who are also concerned about the British stance, have asked Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's UN ambassador and this month's Security Council president, to hold a public session on the issue. The meeting is being held today, despite Britain initially turning down the request.
Steve Crawshaw, the London director of Human Rights Watch, said: "We are enormously worried that the US is attempting to poison the whole mechanism of the court by making it a two-tier justice system. They have given repeated deadlines with the threat of sabotaging the Bosnian mandate. They have backed off three times because the Europeans have stood together. Many European politicians are worried that Britain is playing a double game. Britain has repeatedly committed itself to the ICC. It will be disastrous if those words were not matched by deeds."
A senior UN diplomat said that US pressure on Security Council members, amounting to asking them to support either the ICC or UN peace-keeping, was "a false and disgusting choice and it is an absurd ideological attack on the ICC".
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have always said we want a solution that accommodates the US position without compromising the ICC. We are working very hard to find a solution."