Britain Accused of Sacrificing New Court.
The EU came under furious criticism last night after seeking to end a row with the US by agreeing terms for giving American citizens immunity from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court.
Under heavy pressure from Washington, London persuaded its partners to accept a compromise allowing member states to sign individual immunity agreements with the US, a retreat from its previous united opposition to US immunity.
Britain, Italy and Spain are now expected to go ahead and make separate agreements with the US.
Peter Hain, the foreign office minister, insisted that strict extradition principles would be respected.
But Britain, whose diplomacy was crucial to the new approach, was attacked by Amnesty International for "betraying" its commitment to the new court."US pressure has paid off," said Dick Oosting, director of its EU office.
"The EU has allowed the US to shift the terms of the debate from legal principle to political opportunism."
Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels approved a plan which lets member governments agree not to extradite American soldiers or officials to the ICC if Washington guarantees that US war crimes suspect will be tried at home.
Germany said it was unhappy with the deal but signed it anyway. Sweden and other countries were reluctant but acknowledged that a united EU position was better than none.
The court, due to start work in next year, will try individuals for genocide, war crimes and human rights abuses.
The US, which fears its personnel overseas could face politically motivated charges, opposes the court and has lobbied other countries to sign immunity agreements.
Yesterday's deal was the subject of bitter haggling which underlined European concern about US unilateralism and the EU's difficulty in agreeing a common position.
Per Stig Moeller, the foreign minister of Denmark, which holds the EU presidency, insisted that no concessions had been made. "If individual states stay within these red lines... the court will not be undermined."
Britain was singled out for criticism by Human Rights Watch. "The British role was both ill-considered and damagingly effective," its spokesman Richard Dicker said.
"The British operate as if one more concession will appease those in the Bush administration who are sworn to destroy this court. It represents a betrayal by the Blair government of its earlier support for the ICC."
Amnesty said: "The political impact of this decision will be to bolster the US administration's efforts in its relentless campaign to undermine the effectiveness of the ICC."
Under the terms agreed the US will have to drop its demand for a blanket exemption and limit immunity to individuals sent abroad by the government.
Diplomats said they could not yet answer the so-called "Kissinger question": what would happen in an ICC prosecution of a former US government official - the defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for example - accused of atrocities in a future war against Iraq, especially one not fought under UN authority.
The conditions agreed by the 15 can apply either to new bilateral agreements or existing agreements on extradition and judicial cooperation.
Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, insisted that Berlin would not make an agreement with the US, and sought to accentuate the importance of the court.
"This is very important because the Milosevics and Pinochets of tomorrow will be brought to justice," he said.
Britain had warned the rest of the EU that their failure to reach agreement could endanger UN peacekeeping operations, because the US might veto them in the security council.
Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, told colleagues that though agreeing immunity arrangements was "not an ideal step to take", the highly sensitive issue had to be resolved.
So far 139 states have signed the ICC's founding treaty and 80 have ratified it. But the Bush administration withdrew its signature in April.
Brussels was furious when Romania, a candidate for EU membership, keen to win US support for its Nato membership, agreed never to take US citizens to the court.
Source: By Ian Black - The Guardian - 01Oct02
International Criminal Court
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This document has been published on 04Oct02 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights