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WEB POSTED 05-22-2002

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U.S. criticized for opposing international criminal court

WASHINGTON (IPS)�President George W. Bush�s administration formally renounced all U.S. obligations as a signatory to the 1998 treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although purely symbolic in legal terms, the move could haunt U.S. foreign policy and interests, analysts said.

U.S. officials denied reports the administration would launch a major campaign against the Court or the treaty, ratified by 66 countries, including Canada and all but one member of the European Union (EU) and due to take effect July 1.

In a letter sent to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, John Bolton, said Washington does not intend to become a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC and that it "has no legal obligations arising from its signature on Dec. 31, 2000."

Pierre-Richard Prosper, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said the administration would not "wage war against the ICC" but also emphasized that the Court should not expect Washington to support its work by providing witnesses, evidence, or any other type of cooperation.

He added that Washington will seek assurances from the 100-odd countries where U.S. soldiers are deployed that these forces will be protected from the Court�s reach. It would seek similar assurances for U.S. deployments in peacekeeping missions authorized by the United Nations.

The administration�s announcement drew strong criticism here and abroad. In Madrid, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters: "The European Union is an organization that tends to respect multilateral agreements, and we would very much like to see the United States joining this effort."

The executive director of the U.S. section of Amnesty International (AIUSA), William Schulz, said of Mr. Bush�s move: "Driven by unfounded fears of phantom prosecutions, the United States has hit a new nadir of isolationism and exceptionalism. Out of step with our allies and America�s legacy, this is a historic low for the United States� role in protecting human rights."

Meanwhile, a law professor at the University of Botswana, Daniel Ntanda Nsereko, recently welcomed the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying it "will act as a deterrent against human rights abuses."

Prof. Nsereko said the ICC would also give a notice to the perpetrators of such abuses that "they can no longer commit these crimes with impunity."

He made that statement after he had given a lecture in Cairo on "The Definition of Crimes of Aggression" within the International Criminal Court.

He said that "millions of our people live outside their countries as refugees and development has been impeded as a result of human rights abuses committed with impunity by leaders. These abuses amount to crimes against humanity and it is high time to bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice and to turn the page of impunity."

He noted that the majority of African states are not opposed in principle to the establishment of the ICC. "Only internal problems seem to have kept some African countries from taking the necessary steps towards ratifying the statute," he said.

Twelve African countries have ratified the ICC statutes. These are Benin, Botswana, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and South Africa.

The support of African countries was critical to the completion of the negotiations at the Rome Conference in 1998. Since the adoption of the treaty, regional organizations such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and local NGO�s have continued to play an active role in promoting the ICC.

"African states are conscious of the importance of establishing a fair and independent international court," said Prof. Nsereko.

(Final Call / news wires contributing.)

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