UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sharply criticized the United States on Thursday for seeking another exemption from the International Criminal Court, particularly in light of the Iraqi prisoner scandal.
"The blanket exemption is wrong. It is of dubious judicial value and I don't think it should be encouraged by the council," Annan told reporters.
The Bush administration, for the third year, is seeking to renew a Security Council resolution that would exempt from the court's prosecution military and civilian personnel "related to a UN-authorized operation" such as that in Iraq.
The immunity is extended to all nations not among the 94 countries that have ratified a treaty establishing the new court. The resolution expires by the end of the month.
"It would be unfortunate for one to press for such an exemption, given the prisoner abuse in Iraq, " Annan said. "It would discredit the council and the United Nations that stands for rule of law."
The United States is investigating abuse, including sexual humiliation, of prisoners by the US military in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Security Council envoys say Washington does not yet have enough support or will barely reach the required nine "yes" votes needed for the resolution to pass in the 15-nation body.
Among the 15 council members, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Benin and Romania, are expected to abstain. But some, like Romania, are reluctant to be responsible for failure of the resolution, if it dies by one vote.
Crucial is whether China, which has criticized the resolution, casts an abstention. Diplomats say Beijing is seeking some concessions from Washington on Taiwan, although China's UN ambassador, Wang Guangya, denies this.
The resolution is opposed by European nations, except for Britain, which says Washington would veto UN peacekeeping missions as it did on one operation three years ago, although US officials have not made that threat yet this year.
Asked whether this might be the last time Washington was seeking a renewal, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he knew of no changes.
"I'm not trying to change anything at this moment," Boucher said in Washington. "I'm saying we're talking with others about how to proceed. "
The council voted unanimously last week on a measure endorsing the new Baghdad interim government and US troops to keep order. But that unity could be shattered by the court exemption issue at a time when the Bush administration is searching for peacekeepers in Iraq.
The court, the first permanent global war crimes tribunal, was set up to prosecute the world's worst atrocities, such as genocide, mass war crimes and systematic human rights abuses.
Based in The Hague, Netherlands, it is a court of last resort. Analysts say it would not, for example, interfere in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners as long as a country's judicial system probed the allegations.
The Bush administration is opposed in principle to an international court having any jurisdiction over American soldiers abroad and has signed bilateral agreements with dozens of nations to exempt any American officials.
"Our concern about the court being fundamentally flawed in no way reflects our lack of determination to ensure that the perpetrators of these abhorrent crimes (in Iraq) are fully prosecuted," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for US Ambassador John Negroponte.
(China Daily via agencies, June 18, 2004)