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US Asks to Continue Exemption from International Criminal Court - 2004-05-21

The United States is asking the U.N. Security Council to extend the exemption of U.S. peacekeepers from prosecution in international courts. Human rights groups are leading a growing chorus of opposition to the exemption.

A draft resolution before the Security Council would renew for a third year the exemption U.S. peacekeepers enjoy from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

The Bush administration argues that the court could be used for frivolous or politically motivated charges against U.S. troops.

The measure is expected to come to a vote as early as Monday and spokesman Richard Grennell at Washington's U.N. mission expressed confidence it would pass. A similar measure was approved unanimously two years ago. Last year, the vote was 12-0 with three countries (France, Germany and Syria) abstaining.

This year, however, in light of recent revelations about mistreatment of U.S. prisoners in Iraq, support for the exemption has eroded. At least five Security Council members have indicated they will withhold their votes.

Human rights groups have waged a vigorous campaign in hopes of having the resolution defeated. At a U.N. news conference Friday, Yvonne Terlingen of Amnesty International called the measure, and the previous Resolutions 1422 and 1487, illegal. ?1422 and 1487 create a class of persons who have impunity from international justice. Therefore it creates a two-tier system of justice,? he said.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham introduced the controversial resolution Wednesday, shortly after apologizing for what he called the "shameful" treatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison.

A vote on the measure is likely Monday, more than a month before the previous exemption expires.

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch Friday accused U.S. officials of trying to rush the measure through so it would not overshadow next month's debate on another controversial resolution, on the transition in Iraq. ?The Americans have picked one hell of a time to make the case for special immunity for themselves on the basis of their refusal to acknowledge a court of last resort, the ICC,? he said.

The Rome treaty that created the International Criminal Court was ratified by 94 nations. It began operating this year in the Netherlands, charged with prosecuting cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is currently carrying out investigations into two alleged cases of mass human rights abuses, one in the Congo and the other in Uganda.