Archive for Monday, May 6, 2002

U.S. rejects international court treaty

May 6, 2002

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— The United States will tell the United Nations this week it is renouncing formal involvement in a treaty creating the first permanent war crimes tribunal, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday.

Powell said the Bush administration will notify U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that the United States has no intention of ratifying the treaty and now considers itself "no longer bound in any way to its purpose and objective," Powell said on ABC's "This Week."

The International Criminal Court gained the necessary international backing to come into being when 10 nations joined 56 others last month in announcing their ratification of the treaty negotiated in Rome in 1998. President Clinton signed the treaty, but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification. The Bush administration has made its opposition clear.

A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Saturday that that opposition was expected to be formalized today in a speech by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and at news briefing by Pierre-Richard Prosper, the State Department's ambassador for war crimes issues.

The United States fears the impact on American citizens, arguing that safeguards against frivolous or politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. soldiers and officials are not sufficient.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was dismayed by the withdrawal from the treaty.

"Beyond the extremely problematic matter of casting doubt on the U.S. commitment to international justice and accountability," Feingold said, "these steps actually call into question our country's credibility in all multilateral endeavors."

The Washington Working Group on the ICC, a coalition of organizations that support the tribunal, issued a statement Sunday saying, "This rash action signals to the world that America is turning its back on decades of U.S. leadership in prosecuting war criminals since the Nuremberg trials."

The coalition includes human rights organizations such as Amnesty International-USA and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The court, to be formed this summer without U.S. participation, will fill a gap in the international justice system first recognized by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948 after the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials for World War II's German and Japanese war criminals.

Tribunals have been created for special situations like the 1994 Rwanda genocide and war crimes in former Yugoslavia but no mechanism existed to hold individuals criminally responsible for serious crimes such as genocide.

"We are the leader in the world with respect to bringing people to justice," Powell said. "But ... we found that this was not a situation that we believed was appropriate for our men and women in the armed forces or our diplomats and political leaders."

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