Thursday, July 8, 2004

US steps back on immunity

The latest good news is that the US has beaten a retreat.

The US has withdrawn its bid for immunity through the renewal of Resolution 1487 at the UN Security Council deliberations. Renewal would have meant a grant of a 12-month period of immunity to peacekeeping personnel who are citizens of countries that are not State Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The US is not a Rome Statue signatory.

The Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a member of an international coalition supported by 150 countries, hailed the development and said the US move to seek immunity would have been another way to escape prosecution by any international body.

According to the Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia), Resolution 1487 would be a corruption of the intent and purpose of the Rome Statute because it exempts a certain class of people from international justice. It undermines the authority of the ICC to determine its own jurisdiction and forces the Security Council to overstep the bounds of its own authority.

This development in the UN shows the Security Council upholding the integrity of the ICC and affirming international justice and the rule of law. Countries that held fast to their position against Resolution 1487 were Benin, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Spain and Romania.

By the way, the Philippines, represented by Amb. Lauro Baja, chaired the Security Council during the deliberations on Resolution 1487. The Philippines’ vote went for Resolution 1487 despite the overwhelming tide against it. The US, seeing the odds, retreated. With its pro-US vote, the Philippines had exposed itself.

The US move had met with growing opposition among Security Council members and the international community. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had strong words of caution on the renewal bid. In a meeting last June, Annan said: ``But allow me to express the hope that this does not become an annual routine. If it did, I fear the world would interpret it as meaning that the Council wished to claim absolute and permanent immunity for people serving the operations it establishes or authorizes. If that were to happen, it would undermine not only the authority of the ICC but also the authority of the Council and the legitimacy of the of UN peacekeeping.’’

With Resolution 1487 in the trash can, the ICC can now move on with the investigation and prosecution of crimes in its first case referred by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Although the U.S. and Iraq are not signatories of the Rome Statute, non-signatories could be prosecuted if the complaining country is a signatory. Washington does not recognize the UN-mandated court.

Here are comments on the US retreat from media institutions abroad.

The Guardian argued that ``by withdrawing a resolution to extend immunity from prosecution for its troops for another year, the mighty US diplomatic machine threw itself into reverse gear. In theory, the move means that American soldiers or civilians could now be brought before the ICC by a member country, or by the UN Security Council itself, after the current resolution expires on June 30. In practice, it is not going to happen; Washington has done bilateral `non-surrender’ deals with 90 nations. The ICC jurisdiction does not extend to Iraq and the chief prosecutor will anyway be fully occupied hunting down war criminals in the Congo. Nor can (the) retreat be interpreted as a sign that the US legal establishment is any closer to accepting the notion that an American soldier accused of war crimes could be tried and judged anywhere other than in an American court.’’

So, is it all for naught?

The Australian said the US move could raise ``concern that Washington, which does not recognize the UN-mandated court, might follow through its threat to shut down or stop participating in UN-authorized peacekeeping operations.’’

The Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and the Orlando sentinel said this was the result of intense lobbying on the part of human rights groups and that the setback marked what may be the first concrete repercussion of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal on American foreign relations.

The Irish Times reported on a Chinese ambassador saying the prison abuse scandal involving US soldiers maltreating Iraqi prisoners certainly made an impact on the council members.

The New York Times said that while the ICC decision may have little practical effect because neither the US nor Iraq recognized the court, the debate was widely seen as a rebuke to the US administration for seeking to marginalize the new court by negotiating bilateral exemptions for Americans the world over. Chilean ambassador to the UN said: ``There has been a U-turn. The US has realized that the UN has a legitimacy and a weight that the coalitions of the willing don’t have.’’

This was ``Annan’s victory,’’ the New York Times said and thought ``the Bush administration caved in so easily.’’

Asia Forum is now urging Asian governments to join the 96 countries that have ratified the Rome Statute and actively participate in making its functions effective. Asia Forum secretary general Gothom Arya said ``the region stands to gain the most from the Court’s clear mandate to combat impunity, a mandate seriously defended by the member countries of the United Nations.’’

But the Philippines, by the way, though a signatory of the Rome Statute, has not given its signature to ratify it. We are nowhere on this. We are not among the 96 countries that have ratified it. Pres. Macapagal-Arroyo has not pushed for the concurrence of both houses on the ratification. What a pity. Can she defy the US?