by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
its war against the International Criminal Court to a new level, the administration of President George W. Bush Tuesday cut off military aid to 35 friendly countries in retaliation for their support of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and refusal to exempt U.S. soldiers from its jurisdiction.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have supported the ICC immediately denounced the cuts, which will affect mostly countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, East and Central European, and sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the countries are democratic and generally allied with the U.S. and the West.
"The U.S. campaign has not succeeded in undermining global support for the court," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). "But it has succeeded in making the government look foolish and mean-spirited."
"At a time when America is losing vital public support abroad," said Heather Hamilton, programme director of the World Federalist Association, "this kind of bullying of some of the world's poorest countries will only undermine our long-term safety and security."
But administration officials said the cuts were mandated under the American Service Members Protection Act (ASPA) which was passed by Congress last year. Its express purpose is to ensure that the ICC, which has just launched work at its headquarters at The Hague in the Netherlands, can never gain jurisdiction over members of the U.S. military.
"This is a reflection of the United States' priorities to protect the men and women in our military," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, while his State Department counterpart, Richard Boucher, told reporters that Washington hopes to "continue to work with governments to secure and ratify Article 98 agreements that protect American service members from arbitrary or political prosecution by the International Court."
He added that most U.S. military aid for fiscal year 2003 has already been allocated, and that only some $47.6 million in military aid and training was affected by the cut-off.
Under the ASPA, which includes a provision giving the president authorization to use all necessary means to free U.S. servicemen being held by the ICC, the administration was obliged to cut off military aid to countries that have ratified the ICC unless they are NATO allies or specially designated non-NATO allies, such as Argentina, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Israel. In addition, the president is empowered to "waive" sanctions on other countries if it serves the national interest.
The administration has determined that governments signing so-called Article 98 agreements with the United States committing them not to transfer of any U.S. soldier to the ICC's custody is sufficient to warrant a waiver.
Under the 1998 Rome Protocol, which has been ratified by 90 countries, including Washington's closest NATO allies, the ICC was set up to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in cases for which countries with direct ties to such crimes were not able or willing to prosecute themselves.
Former President Bill Clinton signed the Protocol in December 2000, just a few weeks before Bush became president. In May last year, the administration renounced Clinton's signature and withdrew from all negotiations to set up the ICC. It also threatened to veto extensions of UN peacekeeping operations unless the UN Security Council gave all U.S. citizens a one-year exemption from the ICC's jurisdiction. That exemption was extended under U.S. pressure for a second year earlier this month.
Washington has argued that the tribunal gives too much discretion to prosecutors who may bring politically motivated cases against U.S. officials and soldiers. With some 150,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq, another 9,000 in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands more in scores of countries across Eurasia and in and around the Gulf, the U.S. is worried that it will become a prime target for politicized prosecutions.
But rights groups, like HRW and the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights, and European governments, including Britain, say these fears are greatly exaggerated. "The U.S. experts know that there is practically no justification for the Security council exemptions and the likelihood that a U.S. peacekeeping soldier would come under the jurisdiction of the Court is almost zero," according to William Pace, convenor of the Coalition of the ICC, which includes some 2,000 NGOs worldwide.
Nonetheless, Washington has made the negotiations of Article 98 agreements a top diplomatic priority and, according to U.S. officials, has so far persuaded 51 governments to sign them, including seven that have asked Washington to withhold their identity.
Countries that are known to have either signed or ratified the Protocol and signed Article 98 accords with the U.S. include Afghanistan, Albania, Bahrain, Bolivia, Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Djibouti, the Dominican Republic, East Timor, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Honduras, Israel, Macedonia, Madagascar, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Panama, the Philippines, Romania, the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan, Togo, Uganda, and Uzbekistan.
The administration's inclusion of Botswana, Nigeria, and Senegal -- all countries which Bush will be visiting on his week-long Africa trip next week -- prompted speculation that they may not have made their signatures public yet.
The 35 countries which have signed or ratified the Protocol but have refused to sign Article 98 agreements include key South American countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela; Belize and Costa Rica in Central America; Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia in Europe; Benin, Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia in Africa; Fiji and Samoa in the South Pacific; and the island countries of the English-speaking Caribbean.
Of these, the Andean and European countries are the biggest recipients of U.S. military aid, although, in the Andean and Caribbean cases, most of the aid is considered anti-drug assistance that will not be blocked, according to Boucher. Most of the European countries will be able to receive military aid once they accede to NATO membership.
In Africa, however, some of the affected states have participated in U.S. military training for peacekeeping forces. It is unclear how this will be handled.
Washington has persuaded a number of other countries also to sign Article 98 agreements, even though they have not signed the Protocol. These reportedly include Azerbaijan, Bhutan, El Salvador, India, Maldives, Mauritania, Micronesia, Nepal, Rwanda, Thailand, Tunisia, Tonga, Maldives, Micronesia, Sri Lanka, and Tuvalu.
NGOs have deplored the pressure put on small, poor and often democratic states to sign the Article 98 agreements. "Because most ICC member states are democracies with a relatively strong commitment to the rule of law," noted HRW executive director Kenneth Roth in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday, "the threatened aid cutoffs represent a sanction primarily targeting states that abide by democratic values."
The letter cites one instance where a senior U.S. diplomat recently informed Caribbean foreign ministers that they would lose the benefits for hurricane relief, rural dentistry, and veterinary programmes if their governments did not sign.
July 1, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.