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Home > World

Shuttle Immunity

1 October 2003

Since last summer, American officials have been fanning out across the globe, attempting to ink bilateral immunity agreements with friendly governments in an effort to undermine the first attempt to create a system to enforce international war crimes law.

The Bush administration’s latest round of arm-twisting exploits a loophole buried deep within the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC). Article 98 of the Statute provides temporary immunity for nations sending peacekeeping troops to trouble-spots. Countries are able to sign side agreements with each other to give blanket immunity while the blue helmets march in. By signing as many of these agreements as possible, America is hoping that it can permanently exempt all of its citizens from war crimes prosecution, anywhere in the world.

The Bush administration’s attempts to remove the US from the court’s jurisdiction show just how deep paranoia runs in the current US government. Bill Clinton bombed Serbia without a UN mandate, blew up a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, launched cruise missiles into Afghanistan (some of which missed, and actually hit Pakistan), levelled the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and destroyed a convoy of civilians in Kosovo. And yet, despite the risk of being hauled into the dock himself, the Killer of Khartoum still signed the Rome Statute just before leaving office “to reaffirm our strong support for international accountability and for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.”

Under the Bush administration, nations that refuse to sign Article 98 agreements face losing all of their US military aid; also Americans are banned by domestic law from funding or cooperating with the court. It also seems that the US military may be drawing up plans to invade the rogue state where the court is based: the evil Netherlands.

The blusteringly named American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA), passed last July, authorises the President to use ‘all means necessary and appropriate’ to free any American detained by the court. Just imagine: US Marines landing at The Hague, shooting up Dutch jailers (maybe hitting some Frenchies as an added bonus) and liberating their boys. With luck, they can cruise down the motorway when they’re done for some R ‘n’ R in Amsterdam before heading back to base camp and signing their own bilateral deals with Hollywood producers.

Back in the real world, it’s clear that the United States would never let any of its forces get within a whiff of ICC jurisdiction. And court officials would most likely be too scared to do anything even if a case against Bush or anyone else could be proven. Arguing that a war is illegal is one thing; building a successful genocide prosecution is a whole different ballgame.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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