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Annan Urges Halt to Continued Court Immunity for US Forces - 2004-06-17

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is urging the Security Council to stop protecting U.S. peacekeeping troops from International Criminal Court prosecution. The current U.S. exemption runs out at the end of this month.

The Secretary-General bluntly criticized the United States for requesting an extension of the immunity U.S. peacekeepers enjoy at the International Criminal Court.

He noted that he opposed the Security Council's action in granting an exemption from prosecution the past two years, but he said it would be particularly unfortunate to press for another extension of the immunity given the evidence of prisoner abuse in Iraq.

"I think in this circumstance it would be unwise to press for an exemption and it would be even more unwise on the part of the Security Council to grant it," he said. "It would discredit the Council and the United Nations that stands for rule of law and the primacy of rule of law."

When a reporter asked whether he thinks the prisoner abuse question would fall under the International Criminal court jurisdiction, Mr. Annan said "no."

"I am not saying that," he explained. "What I am saying is that blanket exemption is wrong. It is of dubious judicial value and I don't think it should be encouraged by the council."

The Bush administration introduced a resolution last month asking for a third year of immunity for U.S military and civilian personnel related to a U.N. authorized operation.

Rick Grennell, a spokesman at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, described the International Criminal Court as "fundamentally flawed." He said the request for immunity for U.S. peacekeepers in no way reflects any lack of determination to prosecute those charged with prisoner abuse.

Two years ago the Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a one-year exemption, after the Bush administration threatened to pull out of U.N. peacekeeping missions. The council extended the immunity last year, but three countries, France, Germany and Syria, abstained.

This year, Security Council diplomats say at least six, possibly seven, of the 15 member countries are planning to abstain, putting in jeopardy the nine-vote margin needed for passage.

But a U.S. official confidently predicted this week that the measure would pass. It is expected to come before the Council late next week.

The current exemption expires June 30.