Monday, September 06, 2004

Republicans evading accountability for war crimes

Court Jesters
By Mark Goldberg,
Sept 6th 2004

As America's reputation in the world dwindles to pathetic new lows, and with the United States seeking international support in Iraq and in the fight against terrorism, one might think this an inopportune moment to bait some of our closest foreign allies into unnecessary diplomatic rows. And yet, undeterred, Republican Representatives Tom DeLay and George Nethercutt teamed up on the House floor, and on July 15 they successfully pushed an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would accomplish just that.

The "Nethercutt Amendment" would withhold economic assistance to America's NATO partners, as well as to some major non-NATO allies such as Jordan, South Africa, and Japan, until these countries sign what are known as "bilateral immunity agreements" (BIAs) that exempt U.S. nationals and foreign contractors from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Based in The Hague, Netherlands, the ICC is the first permanent court capable of trying individuals accused of the most serious violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Fearful of the ICC's potential to encroach on U.S. sovereignty, the Bush administration and conservatives in Congress have tried to undermine the court ever since the treaty that created the court entered into force in the summer of 2002. The Nethercutt Amendment, however, may be their most aggressive attempt to limit the court. The bill would use the threat of withholding aid from the State Department's Economic Support Fund to blackmail a bevy of U.S. allies into granting Americans immunity from prosecution before the ICC. So far, 92 countries have concluded a BIA with the United States, but there are holdouts. Under the Nethercutt Amendment, these countries would have their economic assistance stripped bare.

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