U.S. rejects global pact on war-crimes tribunal
Bush to 'unsign' Clinton-era agreement
By Neil A. Lewis (The New York Times)
(courtesy International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shinbun, May 7, 2002, front page)
WASHINGTON: The Bush administration has decided to renounce formally any involvement in a treaty creating an international criminal court and is expected to declare that the signing of the document by the Clinton administration is no longer valid, according to government officials.
The "unsigning" of the treaty, which is expected to be announced Monday, will be a decisive rejection by the Bush White House of the concept of a permanent tribunal designed to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes.
Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed Sunday that the United States would disengage from the treaty.
"Within the next day or so, the United States will notify the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, that we will not ratify it, that we have no intention of ratifying the international criminal court treaty," Powell said on ABC.
The administration has long maintained that the court has the potential to create havoc for the United States, exposing American soldiers involved overseas and U.S. officials to capricious and mischievous prosecutions.
"We think it was a mistake to have signed it," an administration official said. "We have said we will not submit it to the Senate for ratification."
The renunciation, officials said, further means the United States will not recognize the court's jurisdiction and will not submit to any of its orders.
Also, other officials said, the United States will simultaneously assert that it will not be bound by the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
Article 18 of the Vienna Convention requires signatory nations, including the UnitedStates, to refrain from taking steps to undermine treaties they sign, even if they do not ratify them.
As with the treaty for the International Criminal Court, the United States signed but did not ratify the Vienna agreement.
A government official said the administration planned to make its decision known Monday in a speech by an undersecretary of state, Marc Grossman, in Washington and in a briefing for foreign journalists by Pierre-Richard Prosper, the State Department's ambassador for war crimes issues. Representatives of human rights groups also said they expected the decision, which was first reported by the Reuters news agency Friday, to be announced then.
The pointed repudiation of the International Criminal Court, while not unexpected, is certain to add to the friction between the United States and much of the world, notably Europe, where policymakers have grumbled ever more loudly about the Bush administration's inclination to steer away from multinational obligations.
Despite the strong stance by the United States, the International Criminal Court will begin operations next year in The Hague. More than the required number of 60 countries had signed the treaty as of last month, and the court's jurisdiction will cover crimes committed after July 1 of this year.
It will become the first new international judicial body since the International Court of Justice, or World Court, was created in 1945 to adjudicate disputes between states.
Until now, individuals were tried in ad hoc or specially created tribunals for war crimes such as those now in operation for offenses committed in Rwanda and the countries that formerly made up Yugoslavia, both modeled on the Nuremberg trials of Nazi officials after World War II.
Powell said Sunday that the United States believed the treaty could be used against U.S. military personnel and the court would not be accountable to the United Nations or any other body.
"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," he said.
Harold Hongju Koh, a Yale law professor and a former assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, said the retraction of the signature on the treaty would be a profound error.
"The result is that the administration is losing a major opportunity to shape the court so it could be useful to the United States," Koh said.
"Now that the court exists, it's important to deal with it. If the administration leaves it unmanaged, it may create difficulties for us and nations like Israel."
Most democratic countries and all European Union countries have ratified the treaty, except Greece, which is in the process of doing so. Canada, New Zealand and a number of African, Eastern European and Central Asian countries also have ratified it. Israel has signed but not ratified it. Egypt, Iran and Syria have signed. India, Pakistan and China have neither signed nor ratified. Russia has signed but not ratified.
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