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War court threat to peace missions

U.N. 'blue hat' peacekeepers are deployed around the world
U.N. 'blue hat' peacekeepers are deployed around the world  

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Crucial United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world are threatened with closure because of a refusal by the United States to recognise the new International Criminal Court (ICC).

One of the first operations to be at risk is the U.N. operation in Bosnia where its mandate runs out at midnight Eastern time on Sunday (0400 GMT Monday).

The court, which comes into effect from Monday, is meant to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

But the U.S. has said it has "no intention" of ratifying the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court and no longer considers itself to be bound by provisions of the pact.

A letter outlining the U.S. decision was sent to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in May. (Full story)

"This is to inform you, in connection with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court ... the United States does not intend to become a party to the treaty," the letter said.

Text of U.S. letter to the United Nations
U.S. to back out of international court treaty 

"Accordingly, the United States has no legal obligation arising from its signature."

The U.S. says the court would infringe on national sovereignty and could lead to politically motivated prosecutions of its officials or soldiers working overseas.

It wants U.S. peacekeepers to be exempt from prosecution by the court and is seeking a guarantee from the Security Council "that no current or former officials or personnel from any state contributing personnel . . . may be surrendered or otherwise transferred to an international tribunal, for any purpose."

But so far, 12 of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council have spoken out against granting blanket immunity for U.S. peacekeepers.

However, the impasse has serious implications not least because of the looming deadline for the renewal of the mandate for the U.N. in Bosnia and Herzegovina (UNMIBH).

If Washington fails to authorise an extension of its participation in the Bosnian mission the whole operation could be forced to close.

The dispute could also undermine the separate 17,000 strong NATO-led SFOR peacekeepers, of whom 3,100 are Americans.

U.N. peacekeeping missions in Lebanon, Angola, Croatia, Georgia and Western Sahara could also be threatened.

"The whole spectrum of United Nations peacekeeping operations will have to be reviewed if we are unsuccessful at getting the protections we demand," Richard Williamson, an American diplomat at the U.N., told The Times newspaper on Thursday.

NATO has dismissed any suggestion that the dispute threatens its Bosnian peacekeeping mission.

"It is a serious issue, but right now it is an issue that concerns the U.S. and the U.N. It is not per se a NATO problem," a NATO official told Reuters.

"SFOR could still function even if a decision was made at the U.N. not to provide further U.N. coverage to it."

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said Washington believes there is a lack of adequate checks and balances on the court's powers.

"These flaws would be of concern at any time," Rumsfeld said, "but they are particularly troubling in the midst of a difficult, dangerous war on terrorism.

"There's the risk the ICC could attempt to assert jurisdiction over U.S. service members, as well as civilians, involved in counter-terrorist and other military operations -- something we cannot allow."


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