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Security Council Renews U.N. Peacekeeker Immunity

Security Council Renews Immunity for U.N. Peacekeepers

(U.S.: compromise on International Criminal Court important)

By Judy Aita Washington File United Nations Correspondent

United Nations -- The Security Council June 12 renewed a year-old resolution exempting peacekeepers from nations who do not accept the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court (ICC) from prosecution by the court.

The resolution was an important priority for the United States when it was first proposed last year by U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, who said that the whole spectrum of U.N. peacekeeping operations could be in jeopardy if the protection was not enacted. Among U.S. concerns is the fear that U.S. peacekeepers or national leaders could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions by the court.

The International Criminal Court was created after weeks of intense negotiations in July 2002 when the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed resolution 1422 invoking Article 16 of the Rome Statute, which set up the ICC.

The resolution recognizes that nations who are parties to the Rome Statute have chosen to accept the court's jurisdiction and that nations not party to the statute "will continue to fulfill their responsibilities in their national jurisdictions in relation to international crimes." It declares that the ICC will not begin or proceed with any investigation or prosecution involving current or former U.N. peacekeeping personnel from contributing states not party to the Rome Statute for one year, until June 30, 2003.

The new resolution, 1487, extends that immunity for another 12 months. It was adopted by a vote of 12-0 with France, Germany, and Syria abstaining.

U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham welcomed the renewal saying that "like any compromise, the resolution does not address all of our concerns about the court," but it does "balance divergent positions and help ensure against any undermining of U.N. peace operations."

The United States "has a fundamental objection" to the ICC and sees it as "a fatally flawed institution," said Cunningham, the deputy U.S. representative to the U.N. "Many others, including some of our closest friends do not share that view. We are thoroughly familiar with our respective positions and understand that those positions are not going to change in the foreseeable future. We all need to acknowledge that fact and its implications."

"This resolution represents a compromise that respects the strongly held views of those who support the ICC and the equally strongly held views of those that do not. Such respect is important to maintain. This compromise, therefore, is important to maintain," the U.S. ambassador said.

In a speech to the council, Cunningham said "the resolution does not in any way affect parties to the court nor the Rome Statute itself. Nor does it, as some today suggested, elevate an entire category of people above the law. The ICC is not 'the law.'"

Many states expressed concern that the resolution would become permanent and asked to participate in an open debate on the issue before the vote. More than 15 nations who are not members of the council participated.

Secretary General Kofi Annan said that he believed Article 16 of the Rome Statute was intended to cover only specific requests relating to a particular situation, not blanket immunity, but he accepted that the council was "acting in good faith" and the purpose was "to make it possible for peace operations to continue, whether established or only authorized by this council."

"I wish to place on record, however, that, in addition to my concern about its conformity with Article 16 of the Rome Statute, I do not believe this request is necessary," Annan said.

Calling the U.S. concern "highly improbable," the secretary general said that he could "state confidently that in the history of the United Nations, and certainly during the (more than 30 years) I have worked for the organization, no peacekeeper or any other mission personnel have been anywhere near committing the kind of crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC."

In addition, Annan pointed out, people serving in U.N. peacekeeping missions remain under the jurisdiction of their home states and no case is admissible to the ICC unless a state is unwilling or unable to genuinely investigate or prosecute.

German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger said "we feel that the concerns of the United States are being addressed already in the statute of the International Criminal Court. Although we understand the concerns, we feel a statute in international treaty that has been ratified by 90 member states and has been ratified or signed by 12 of the 15 members of the Security Council should not be amended or changed by a Security Council resolution."

Cunningham said "the resolution is consistent with the fundamental principle of international law. The need for a state to consent if it is to be bound is respected by exempting from ICC jurisdiction personnel and forces of states that are not parties to the Rome Statute."

The United States "yields to no country its historical leadership in the struggle for international justice and accountability for war crimes," Cunningham also said. "After all, the United States was the first country to codify the laws of war -- international humanitarian law -- and an original participant in the creation of every successful international effort to date to adjudicate allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of the tribunals established under the aegis of this council."

The War Crimes Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were created by the Security Council in the 1990s.

The ICC was not created by the Security Council and is not responsible to the council. It came into being in July 2002 after more than 90 states ratified the Rome Statute creating the court. The court is currently being organized. Its 18 judges have been elected and Luis Moreno Ocampo of Argentina has been named chief prosecutor.

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