The UN Security Council on Thursday approved an exemption for US peacekeepers from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court for another year with France, Germany and Syria abstaining.
Despite 12 votes in favor, France and Germany resisted US warnings to support the resolution, thereby rekindling a dispute that began when both countries opposed the war in Iraq.
The other European Union members, Britain and Spain, voted "yes," as did Bulgaria, a candidate for the EU, which had been a prime mover behind the ICC to be set up in The Hague, Netherlands, later this year.
"The ICC is not the law," US representative James Cunningham told the council. "In our view, it is a fatally flawed institution."
The council last year voted 15-0 to grant immunity from prosecution to peacekeepers in UN-backed missions from countries that had not approved the treaty for the ICC. At that time, the Bush administration threatened to veto all UN peacekeeping missions, one by one.
A total of 90 countries so far have ratified the treaty creating the ICC, the first permanent global criminal tribunal. It was set up to try perpetrators for the world's worst atrocities -- genocide, mass war crimes and systematic human rights abuses and will be in operation in The Hague this year.
The Bush administration rescinded former President Bill Clinton's signature to the ICC treaty, fearing US troops and officials abroad would be the target of frivolous suits.
France and Germany, however, argued that the council should not automatically renew the exemption each year or risk defying the statutes that set up the court. France had voted "yes" last year but Germany was not a member of the council then.
'A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE'
"For us it was a matter of principle," said Germany's UN ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, whose country was in the forefront of organizing the court, based on the principles of the Nuremberg Nazi war crime trials at the end of World War II.
France's Michel Duclos said his country changed its vote because the elections of judges and a prosecutor "left no room for doubt" about the credibility of the court or that it might be politically motivated.
Even close ally Britain said the resolution would not be automatically renewed but said the measure was an "acceptable outcome in what is for the council a difficult situation."
"Whilst we understand US concerns about the International Criminal Court, we do not share them," Britain's Sir Jeremy Greenstock said.
Cunningham said the US stand was "consistent with a fundamental principle of international law -- the need for a state to consent if it is to be bound."
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as well as Canada, Jordan, South Africa and other countries without council seats argued that the resolution bordered on illegality. The council, they said, could exempt nations from prosecutions on a specific issue, such as a conflict the body was considering.
The ICC treaty ""was not intended to cover such a sweeping request but only a more specific request relating to a particular situation," Annan said.
"But allow me to express the hope that this does not become an annual routine, he said. "If that were to happen, it would undermine not only the authority of the ICC but also the authority of this council and the legitimacy of United Nations peacekeeping."
(China Daily June 13, 2003)