Just days before a potential U.S. veto could kill off a United Nations police mission in Bosnia, Washington's U.N. ambassador signaled again that the United States would not give in on its demand to exempt U.S. peacekeepers from the jurisdiction of a new criminal court. The U.N. Security Council held a day-long debate Wednesday at the request of Canada to give non-members of the Council a chance to air their views.
Many governments expressed concern that Washington's opposition to the new global court would undermine U.N. peacekeeping. The United States has indicated its readiness to challenge the extension of every U.N. operation, until the Security Council agrees to its demands.
New Zealand's ambassador Don MacKay argued immunity for U.N. peacekeepers sets a double standard. New Zealand is a major provider of U.N. troops. "It appears to place peacekeepers above the law," Mr. MacKay said, "and indeed places the moral authority of peacekeepers and the indispensable institution of U.N. peacekeeping in serious jeopardy."
Ambassador Paul Heinbecker of Canada, another big contributor to U.N. operations, argued for the principle of the criminal court, the world's first permanent legal forum to try cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Mr. Heinbecker said, "We have just emerged from a century that witnessed the evil of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin, and the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia. I believe we have all learned the fundamental lesson of this bloodiest of centuries, which is that impunity from prosecution of grievous crimes must end."
American ambassador John Negroponte dismissed the concerns as alarmist, arguing that exemption for peacekeepers would not jeopardize the main purpose of the court. "Does anyone really believe that deferral of ICC action in the unlikely event of an accusation against peacekeepers, which would certainly be examined by national authorities, would undermine the court's ability to go after the gross violators at whom it is truly aimed," he asked?
The United States wants the exemption because it believes American troops, as representatives of the world's only superpower, need special protection from the possibility of politically-motivated prosecutions.
The Security Council has until the end of Monday, July 15, to negotiate a way out of the impasse. Diplomats are working on a compromise solution. They want Washington to stay involved in U.N. operations and to continue paying its 25 percent share of the peacekeeping bill.