International Criminal Court: UK U-turn could threaten justice

The USA is seeking to amend the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which is the multilateral treaty that established the court, through a new Security Council resolution.

Amnesty International UK Communications Director Richard Bunting said:

'The latest US proposal has the same wrecking intent as previous versions. Prosecution for the gravest crimes should not be subject to delay or obstruction and should apply to everyone.

The UK government played a key role in the establishment of the ICC, created to establish accountability for the worst possible crimes under international law. Despite initial strong opposition to US demands, the UK appears to have weakened its position. Britain must stand firm and refuse to support any proposals that will damage the integrity of the court and could violate international law.'

US demands for blanket immunity for peacekeepers have been dropped, but the latest US proposal would in effect provide impunity to peacekeepers from states that have not ratified the Rome Statute, including the USA. It seeks to ensure that the ICC will not undertake any investigations or prosecutions involving such people for a renewable twelve-month period from 1 July 2002.

Yet immunities for people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes is prohibited in the Rome Statute. Any amendment to this would undermine the integrity of the Statute and the court.

The US proposals are contrary to international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, by permitting the Security Council to rewrite multilateral treaties.

Despite US fears, there are ample safeguards in the Rome Statute against frivolous or politically-motivated prosecutions. The ICC will not exercise its jurisdiction unless states are unable or unwilling genuinely to investigate or prosecute the worst possible crimes under international law.

Amnesty International applauds the resolve of the many governments that have spoken out in defence of the ICC. It urges them to hold fast and defeat the US proposal.

Background

Although the UK has said that any resolution of this issue must be consistent with the Rome Statute, the US proposal would in effect amend Article 16 of the Statute. Article 16 was intended to be used only in specific cases in exceptional circumstances. It was not intended to cover categories of people.

The proposal also improperly invokes Chapter VII of the UN Charter, when no threat to or breach of international peace and security exists.

The UK has reportedly claimed that the use of Chapter VII powers are justified because the US threat to veto UN peacekeeping operations constitutes a threat to international peace and security. Many other countries have stated that this is not the case.

Accepting the US proposal would amount to the Security Council amending the ICC treaty, an action that can only be taken by the Assembly of States Parties. It would require parties to the Rome Statute and UN member states to act inconsistently with their treaty obligations.

The US has already used its Security Council veto to block the renewal of the mandate of the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and has threatened to oppose the renewal of the USA peacekeeping operations there unless US peacekeepers are exempted from prosecution by the ICC. The vote on the mandate has been put back until 15 July.

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court is a coalition of over 1000 non-governmental organisations around the world.

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