Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Thirty-five countries have lost U.S. military aid for refusing to sign agreements promising not to bring American citizens before the International Criminal Court.
Other countries that have signed such agreements but not yet had them ratified by their parliaments, are being given a grace period to do so without losing U.S. aid, while a third group of countries considered important allies have been given a free pass.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher did not name those losing out on some $47 million worth of military assistance, but they include such countries as Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia - and South Africa, where President Bush is due to visit next week.
With the end of the federal fiscal year 2003 approaching, a lot more money may be at stake in the year to come.
Boucher said the U.S. would continue trying to pursue the immunity agreements with those countries.
At a press briefing Tuesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reiterated that, "The issue of protecting U.S. persons from the International Criminal Court will be a significant and pressing matter in our relations with every state."
The administration has chosen not to ratify the ICC treaty because it worries that U.S. servicemen or politicians may face politically motivated prosecutions, relating for instance to peacekeeping missions abroad.
It argues it is not trying to sabotage the ICC and respects other countries' decisions to join the tribunal, but says the 90 nations that have done so should similarly respect the right of the U.S. to stay away.
Acting under the American Service Members Protection Act, Washington gave countries that have ratified the ICC treaty until July 1 to agree to so-called "Article 98" deals granting immunity to U.S. citizens - or face a loss of military aid.
About 50 nations, mostly in the developing world, have since done so.
Once the deadline passed, the president on Tuesday granted waivers to 22 other nations that would otherwise have been penalized. In most cases they have signed immunity deals, but have yet to get lawmakers to approve them.
Another group of countries - NATO's 19 members and other nations designated as "major non-NATO allies" such as Australia, South Korea, Israel and Japan - has been exempted from the threat whether or not they agree to sign Article 98 agreements, named after a clause in the ICC treaty.
Based in The Hague, the ICC will consider crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of sexual violence, committed after July 1, 2002, when the statute entered into force.
It will handle cases brought by a full-time prosecutor, individual nations, or the U.N. Security Council, and be able to hand down sentences up to a maximum of life imprisonment.
Critics of the court fear it may infringe on nations' sovereign interests, and some worry that it could also be abused to promote radical social agendas.
Supporters of the ICC point out that it will only be able to prosecute serious crimes in cases where the accused person's own government is unable or unwilling to do so.
They have also objected strongly to what they call "impunity agreements" and to the U.S. decision to freeze aid to countries that have declined to sign them.
"U.S. officials are engaged in a worldwide campaign pressing small, vulnerable and often fragile democratic governments," Human Rights Watch complained in a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, released on Tuesday.
The director of the group's international justice program, Richard Dicker, said the U.S. campaign had not undermined global support for the court but had made the American government "look foolish and mean-spirited."
The NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court also criticized the U.S. stance, accusing the Administration of signing agreements with poor countries that cannot stand up to the threat of losing aid.
International Criminal Court Officially Opens (March 11, 2003)
Pro-Family Groups Worry About Effects Of International Court (Feb. 11, 2002)
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