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Colombians Oppose US Request for Immunity From ICC

20 August 2002

Opposition to a US request for Colombia to back immunity for US troops before the International Criminal Court could spell difficulty for newly inaugurated President Alvaro Uribe, who supports the proposal.

US officials have asked allies to sign on to a waiver so that US troops could not be tried for genocide, and before the United Nations court.

"I don't like the way the United States has cast this debate because it is tied to international drug war aid," said former economy minister Juan Camilo Restrepo.

Colombia is the third-largest recipient of US foreign aid in the world, after Israel and Egypt.

Under the American Service Members Protection Act signed into law by US President George W. Bush last week, Washington could withhold military aid from ICC member countries that do not sign bilateral exceptions for US troops.

"That has the bad taste of blackmail," said the former Conservative Party presidential candidate.

"(It amounts to) aggressive diplomacy with poor countries."

Former leftist presidential candidate Luis Eduardo Garzon wondered who would be responsible if US personnel committed excesses in Colombia.

"Frankly, I believe the request is the height of cynicism.

"We are losing any possibility of having a minimum of independence (from the United States)," he said.

Former Conservative Party foreign minister Noemi Sanin recalled that Colombia has ratified the court and should act with other Latin American countries.

"Colombia rightly approved the International Criminal Court because crime has no borders.

"Colombia should not make that decision alone, but in unity with all of Latin America should take a common stand."

Maria Teresa Bernal, director of a grass-roots peace group, Redepaz, disagreed with the US proposal.

"If the United States has offered economic aid and military assistance, I believe it can turn into blackmail for a country that has ratified the court before the world community."

On August 5, Colombia became the 77th country to ratify the Rome Treaty that established the court, which came into being on July 1.

"It is absurd for the United States to demand democracy and respect for human rights only when it applies to others," Bernal said.

However, the Uribe government said that it would let its position be known in good time.

"What we have clear is that the United States is a great ally of Colombia, is a generous contributor to the struggle against crime, corruption and violence and for human rights," Vice President Francisco Santos said Saturday.

US undersecretary of state for political affairs Marc Grossman urged Colombia to sign the bilateral deal to give US troops immunity during a visit to Bogota last week.

"We have serious, serious reservations (on) the International Criminal Court.

"We believe the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has no checks and balances on him or her. ... We think that's too bad," he said.

"So we have proposed to the government of Colombia that they sign with us what is called un article 98 agreement. And that's to protect American service men and women and official Americans serving in Colombia for what we worry will be political prosecutions by this Court," Grossman said.

Published by Agence France Presse © 2002 AFP

International Criminal Court and International Law


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