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U.S. defiant on war crimes court

The U.N. Security Council meeting on Sunday
The U.N. Security Council meeting on Sunday  

THE HAGUE, the Netherlands -- European countries as well as former U.S. officials have criticised Washington's rejection of the first permanent international war crimes court.

The International Criminal Court, temporarily set up in The Hague, the Netherlands, formally opened for business on Monday ready to hear complaints of human rights abuses, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

The court has been described as "truly one of the greatest advances of international law since the founding of the United Nations 57 years ago," by the head of the coalition for the court, William Pace.

But despite 74 countries backing the court the U.S.' refusal to recognise it for fear of political prosecutions against its personnel has put into doubt current and future U.N. peacekeeping operations.

The United Nations approved a 72-hour extension for the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia after the U.S. vetoed a six-month extension. CNN's Brian Palmer reports (July 1)

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The U.S. is directly involved in U.N. missions around the world, including East Timor, Ethiopia, Kosovo and Georgia, as well as indirect non U.N. missions such as Macedonia, Croatia and Turkey.

The U.S. administration is demanding immunity from prosecution for its personnel involved in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and elsewhere.

Washington objects to the idea that Americans could be subject to the court's jurisdiction if a crime is committed in a country that has ratified the treaty.

The first blue-beret operation to be thrown into doubt is Bosnia. The U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution to extend the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Bosnia by six months on the weekend.

The European Union and individual member states, NATO and the Bosnian government as well as former Balkans peace broker and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke expressed "regret" at the U.S. veto.

Talks are continuing in an attempt to resolve the stalemate after the U.S. agreed to give the Security Council 72 hours to defuse the row.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described the U.S. decision as a "serious matter" while his German counterpart Joschka Fischer said he "regretted the United States' negative stance" toward the court and that they hoped for a "long-term re-think" in the U.S. position.

Holbrooke said the U.S. action "unnecessarily" jeopardised the peacekeeping force in Bosnia, and that "if this continues it will affect not only Bosnia but Kosovo, Africa, East Timor and most importantly Afghanistan."

The highest-ranking international official in Bosnia, former British political party leader Paddy Ashdown, held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to express his concern.

'Unnecessary fight'

Robin Oakley, CNN's European Political Editor, said "dismay and a great deal of puzzlement" existed in Europe.

He added Europe saw it as an "unnecessary fight" and that it was deemed to come down to the Pentagon and isolationists in Congress.

The U.S. makes up 46 of the 1,500-strong U.N. police training mission which coaches domestic 17,000 officers.

Bosnia has warned it would not have the financial or human resources to plug the gap if the mission was shut down.

Amer Kapetanovic, spokesman for the Bosnian Foreign Ministry, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that "all the progress made so far (since the 1992-95 war) will be endangered."

While Jacques Paul Klein, head of the U.N. mission in Bosnia said: "What this veto would do is close down the whole mission, not just the Americans in the international police force."

The U.S. veto has a direct influence on the extended role of this police force, but it also has an indirect impact on the NATO-led 18,000-strong international peacekeeping force, SFOR.

The U.S. makes up more than 3,100 of SFOR. The fear is that the police veto will have a knock-on effect on other peace missions involving U.S. soldiers even though the U.S. Ambassador in Sarajevo said on Monday that U.S. troops "will stay in Bosnia."

"The mandate of SFOR (the NATO-led peacekeeping force) is based on the Dayton Peace Accords and the decisions of the Peace Implementation Council," Ambassador Clifford Bond was reported by Reuters news agency as saying.

NATO allies were meeting in Brussels on Monday to discuss any impact on SFOR.

The U.N. has asked European nations to consider taking over the police-training task force six months early, an EC spokesman said.

But EC spokesman Gunnar Wiegand said the missions were different "so to decide in a matter of days to advance this by half a year looks to me logistically tight and quite difficult."

The U.S. remained adamant on its stance.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said on Monday that the Bush administration "strongly supports Bosnian peacekeeping" but the treaty threatens to overreach and ensnare U.S. diplomats and military personnel on overseas duty.

"This is a very important matter of principle about protecting Americans who uniquely serve around the globe in peacekeeping efforts.

"The world should make no mistake the United States will stand strong and stand on principle to do what's right to protect our citizens."

Supporters of the court say there are many safeguards to prevent abuse, including a democratic process to elect a prosecutor and 18 judges. Each member country has a vote.

The court will list any complaints dating from July 1, 2002, but its main task until a suitable office is built is to keep track of complaints until permanent representatives are appointed early next year.


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