The United States on Wednesday backed off from its demand for permanent immunity for US peacekeepers from the new war crimes tribunal, proposing instead a ban on any investigation of its peacekeepers for a year.
In the face of intense criticism from countries around the world, including close allies, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte circulated the new proposal to the U.N. Security Council after an open council meeting.
The United States earlier had threatened to end U.N. peacekeeping if it didn't get open-ended immunity for peacekeepers from countries that have not ratified the Rome treaty establishing the court, which came into existence on July 1. The treaty has been signed by 139 countries and ratified by 76, including all 15 members of the European Union.
The United States has been demanding immunity on grounds that other countries could use the new court for frivolous and politically motivated prosecutions of American soldiers. The position has put the Bush administration at odds with its closest allies and the rest of the world.
The new draft U.S. resolution asks the court for a 12-month exemption from investigation or prosecution of peacekeepers and "expresses the intention to renew the request ... for further 12 month periods for as long as may be necessary."
Many Security Council members said the new U.S.-proposed resolution didn't go far enough. Nonetheless, they called the mood positive and said for the first time the United States appeared willing to negotiate.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, the current council president, called the U.S. proposal "a fair basis for discussion" and said consultations would continue on Thursday.
At the open council meeting, ambassadors from nearly 40 countries criticized the U.S. demand for immunity, saying it would affect peacekeeping and stability from the Balkans to Africa. Only India offered some sympathy to the U.S. position.
Canada's U.N. Ambassador Paul Heinbecker, who requested the open meeting, warned that the United States was putting the credibility of the Security Council, the legality of international treaties, and the principle that all people are equal and accountable before the law at stake.
Washington last month vetoed a six-month extension of the 1,500-strong U.N. police training mission in Bosnia and a yearlong extension of the authorization for the 18,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping force - and then gave the missions two reprieves, the latest until July 15.
Its argument of the fear of politically motivated prosecutions was rejected by speakers from the European Union, Latin America, Africa and Asia who countered that the Rome treaty had sufficient safeguards to prevent. First and foremost, the court will step in only when states are unwilling or unable to dispense justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The draft U.S. resolution makes no mention of immunity.
Under the U.S. proposal, any peacekeeper who was exempt from investigation or prosecution for a year could then be investigated and prosecuted if the exemption was not renewed - though no U.N. peacekeeper has ever been charged with a war crime.
"We have for one year a total freedom," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission, who said this was sufficient time to bring any American suspect home, thus out of reach of the court.
"What we have been focused on is ensuring that American men and women are not within the reach of the International Criminal Court," he said. "What we have been able to offer today ... (is) that for a period of 12 months they would have that immunity."
But the U.S. draft still raises serious questions for some council members.
The Rome treaty allows the Security Council to request a 12-month deferral of investigation or prosecution by the court on a case-by-case basis.
Diplomats said some council members argued that the U.S. draft would change the statute's intent by giving blanket deferral to peacekeepers.
"It's a very positive attitude on the part of the U.S. to bring a new text which is a step in the right direction," said Mauritius' U.N. Ambassador Jagdish Koonjul, a council member. "I think we are getting closer."
Colombia's U.N. Ambassador Alfonso Valdivieso, also a council member, called the U.S. draft "an improvement" because it was not "in perpetuity."
But both said the blanket deferral for peacekeepers was still an issue.
(Xinhua News Agency July 11, 2002)