UNITED NATIONS -- The world's first permanent war crimes tribunal officially came into existence Monday, hailed by supporters as a milestone in international justice that will prevent future Hitlers, Pol Pots and Saddam Husseins -- but vehemently opposed by the United States.
On the eve of the birth of the International Criminal Court, the United States made the depth of its opposition crystal clear: It dramatically vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to extend U.N. peacekeeping in Bosnia because it didn't exempt American peacekeepers from prosecution by the court -- and then agreed to a three-day extension to try to find a solution.
But U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte warned that "peacekeeping in general" was at stake if a solution isn't found -- not just in Bosnia. He indicated that the United States might try to end the 14 other U.N. peacekeeping missions from East Timor and Cyprus to Congo and the Iraq-Kuwait border if its demand for immunity isn't met.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a strong backer of the court, questioned how the United States could join the Security Council in supporting war crimes tribunals for former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone -- yet now oppose a permanent tribunal and threaten the future of U.N. peacekeeping.
"It would be unfortunate if the peacekeeping tool which has served the world so well, and we are going to need in the future, was to be hampered," he said. "I think the council's credibility and the organization's is on the line. And not only that, how do we explain these contradictory attitudes?"
The U.S. brinkmanship was clearly aimed at underscoring the Bush administration's decision to have nothing to do with the court, but it also underlined Washington's willingness to stand alone against virtually all other council members, including its close allies, who support the court.
The United States is demanding immunity because it fears American troops and citizens could be targets of frivolous and politically motivated prosecutions.
Diplomats said the standoff is the most serious -- and potentially the most polarizing -- between the United States and the rest of the council in many years, and could have repercussions on President Bush's campaign to build an international coalition to fight terrorism.
The U.S. willingness to put its demand for immunity for its soldiers above the U.N. mission to train Bosnia's police force, and possibly the NATO-led peacekeeping force in the country -- which Washington helped create -- angered many council members.
"By pitting international peacekeeping against international justice, the United States government has sunk to a new low in terms of its moral and political leadership at the United Nations," said William Pace, head of the International Coalition for a Criminal Court, a coalition of over 1,000 organizations supporting the tribunal.
In Brussels, Belgium, a spokesman for the European Union said the United Nations has asked EU countries to consider speeding up preparations to take charge of the international police operation in Bosnia, following the U.S. threat to bring an early halt to the mission.
The new court will prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes on or after July 1.
Pace said the main targets are "the genocidal Pol Pots, the Saddam Husseins who use nerve gas against ethnic groups, the ethnic cleansing wars of future (Slobodan) Milosevics', the Hitlers, the military monsters who hack off children's arms to terrorize civilian populations."
The United States objects to the idea that Americans could be subject to the court's jurisdiction if a crime is committed in a country that has ratified the Rome treaty that established the court -- even if the United States is not a party.
"With our global responsibilities, we are and will remain a special target," Negroponte said, "and cannot have our decisions second-guessed by a court whose jurisdiction we do not recognize."
The court's supporters contend that the Rome treaty provides adequate safeguards against abuse. First and foremost, it will step in only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.