U.S. Renounces Obligations to International Court
May 6, 2002.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration, flouting the advice of major allies and outraging human rights organizations, renounced on Monday any obligation to cooperate with the new International Criminal Court. The decision, formalized in a letter to the United Nations, means the United States reserves the right to ignore the orders of the court, the first permanent world tribunal to prosecute people for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.
Canada and the European Union expressed disappointment and regret over the decision by the Bush administration, which had already angered some allies by walking out on the Kyoto climate accord and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The administration of former President Bill Clinton signed the treaty setting up the court in 2000 so the United States could take part in talks on arrangements for the new body. But both Clinton and the Bush administration said they did not intend to ask the Senate the ratify the treaty, on the grounds it could be used for politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. officials or military personnel.
"The United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligations arising from its signature, U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton said in the letter delivered at U.N. headquarters. Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said: "It neutralizes the signature. ... When you sign, you have an obligation not to take actions that would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty."
For example, Washington could now reject an extradition request from the court, he said. "That could be construed as inconsistent with the objects and purpose of the treaty. What we are saying is we have no obligations."
The chief of the treaty section at the United Nations, Palitha Kohona, said the section could find no precedent for a country withdrawing from treaty obligations in this way.
Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld said the court could discourage U.S. military engagement "by putting U.S. men and women in uniform at risk of politicized prosecutions. We have an obligation to protect our men and women in uniform from this court and to preserve America's ability to remain engaged in the world. We intend to do so," he said.
Most of Washington's major allies, including Canada and 14 of the 15 members of the European Union, have signed and ratified the 1998 treaty and are strong supporters of the campaign for a system of international justice. The United States says it prefers to rely on ad hoc arrangements for particular conflicts, such as the international tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia.
Canada, one of the prime movers behind the creation of the court, said it was disappointed by Washington's decision. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, speaking in Madrid, said: "The European Union is an organization that tends to respect multilateral agreements and we would very much like to see the United States joining this effort, and we regret that it is not so." The international organization Human Rights Watch said renouncing the treaty was "an empty gesture that will further estrange Washington from its closest allies. The administration is putting itself on the wrong side of history," said executive director Kenneth Roth. "'Unsigning' the treaty will not stop the court. It will only throw the United States into opposition against the most important new institution for enforcing human rights in 50 years."
A consortium of 23 other organizations, includes Amnesty International USA, the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights and the Rainbow Push Coalition also criticized the U.S. decision. "It undermines American leadership and credibility at the worst possible time," they said in a joint statement. "This rash action signals to the world that America is turning its back on decades of U.S. leadership in prosecuting war criminals since the Nuremberg trials."
Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd, the senator most favorable to the treaty, said he was "extremely disappointed". "This decision is irresponsible, isolationist, and contrary to our vital national interests," he said in a statement. "While some may be cheering ..., those of us who care deeply about promoting the rule of law are not. Today was a setback in the promotion of global justice. Today was a setback for what America is supposed to stand for."