by Kim Petersen
July 21, 2003
In response to a query on whether asylum would place Liberian President Charles Taylor beyond arraignment for war crimes before a court administered by the UN and Sierra Leone, State Department spokesman Richard A. Boucher said, “We support the court.”
In the same New York Times and on the same day (2 July) there is another article that stands in absurd contiguity. Elizabeth Becker writes of the US administration’s attempt to subvert the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The unabashed means for bringing this about is the suspension of military assistance to 35 countries that have so far refused to confer immunity from prosecution before the ICC for American citizens.
The ICC is the institutionalisation of a world court to try people charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity. The reason proffered for the US government opposition is because it fears politically inspired cases against American citizens. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says, “There should be no misunderstanding, that the issue of protecting US persons from the International Criminal Court will be a significant and pressing matter in our relations with every state.” That seems like a rationale that can be used by any national government opposed to the jurisdiction of international law.
Nevertheless 90 nations have already ratified the court and US attempts to thwart the court have ended in ignominy. Says Amnesty International in a press release: “Undue attention to the failed US campaign to undermine the Court has obscured the fact that the Court is now up and running and reviewing a wide range of complaints about crimes being committed on a horrific scale.”
The Bill Clinton administration was a signatory to the treaty for the creation of the world court but the current George Bush administration has nullified this, as its has so many other international agreements. It has tried to finagle its way out of the ICC’s prosecutorial range. Its bid for a permanent exemption from prosecution was blocked but it has managed to finagle two one-year exemptions.
Some nations have stood up to the bullying and financial extortion of the US. The UN Security Council so-called Middle Six smaller nations of Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan, with the exception of the latter, didn’t cave into intense US arm-twisting for a resolution on the heels of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, to approve a military invasion of Iraq.
Croatia, which covets NATO membership, is targeted by the withdrawal of US military funds. In April Croatia through its Croatian Multimedia Institute had already turned down $100,000 from the US because of its “disregarding international law, subverting international decision-making forums based on international law, and disrespecting world-wide public opposition to the war carried out in Iraq.” (Tuva Ravn Eggan, Rejecting US aid, Peace News, June-August 2003)
Incisive US foreign-policy critic Noam Chomsky has often delineated the loathing of the US administrations for the application of international law against it. When the US was found guilty in 1986 of “unlawful use of force” by the International Court of Justice and ordered to pay reparations, the US ignored the decision and stepped up its illegal war against Nicaragua. A subsequent UN Security Council vote on a resolution calling for all nations to uphold international law was vetoed by the US. When introduced into the General Assembly the resolution was voted against only by the US and Israel (and once by El Salvador).
The unleashing of violence upon Iraq without UN approbation is a recent manifestation of the longstanding US disregard for international rules and regulations.
The US arrogates unto itself a status above that of other nations. The US is above the law whereas a nation, such as Liberia, recolonized by former slaves from the US is beholden to the law. This double standard even manifests itself in how the US applies its punishment of aid withdrawal from recalcitrant nations. Mr. Boucher indicates the Whitehouse stick will be wielded differentially to different nations.
This creates its own problems. Lincoln P. Bloomfield Jr., the assistant secretary for political military affairs remarks: “This policy is creating a dilemma where the administration has to chose between sound military cooperation with democratic nations and this campaign of ideology against the international criminal court.”
One can only conjecture about the morality of such ideology. Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch was moved to wonder, “ I've never seen a sanctions regime aimed at countries that believe in the rule of law rather than ones that commit human rights abuses.”
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org