Human Rights News

U.S.: Congress Tries to Undermine War Crimes Court

Spending Provision Threatens Millions in Aid to ICC Countries

(New York, December 8, 2004) – The United States intensified its assault on international justice with Congress’ approval yesterday of the “Nethercutt Amendment,” Human Rights Watch said today. This provision, part of an overall spending bill, mandates withholding antiterrorism funds and other aid from countries that refuse to grant immunity for U.S. citizens before the International Criminal Court.

" While accounts of U.S. abuse of prisoners keep surfacing, the United States is ratcheting up pressure on states to place U.S. citizens beyond the reach of a court that can only be used as a last resort. "
Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program of Human Rights Watch
  

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At the same time that the Bush administration is seeking to place the United States above international law, serious allegations of prisoner abuse by U.S. troops from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay continue to be made. Under these conditions, U.S. efforts to obtain immunity for its citizens have become even harder for its allies to accept, Human Rights Watch said. The International Criminal Court (ICC)—which can prosecute only the most serious crimes and only if a country is unwilling or unable to do so—could have no role in jurisdiction over these crimes by U.S. forces because of various limitations on its authority.  
 
“While accounts of U.S. abuse of prisoners keep surfacing, the United States is ratcheting up pressure on states to place U.S. citizens beyond the reach of a court that can only be used as a last resort,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program of Human Rights Watch. “As revelations of abuses continue, U.S. insistence on immunity strikes a particularly raw nerve.”  
 
The amendment to the U.S. federal spending bill threatens to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to countries that have joined the International Criminal Court but do not sign bilateral immunity agreements. These agreements require countries to guarantee that both U.S. nationals and non-U.S. nationals working for the United States will not be handed over to the ICC. This violates states’ obligations under the ICC treaty to fully cooperate with the court.  
 
The amendment threatens aid available under the Economic Support Fund—intended to help U.S. allies promote democracy, fight terrorism and corruption, and resolve conflict. Jordan, which has helped train Iraqi police and hosted conferences on the reconstruction of Iraq, is set to lose approximately $250 million in aid. Peru is expected to lose $8 million that would have funded democratic reforms and programs to reduce coca cultivation, drug-trafficking, and terrorism. Also at risk is the Bush administration’s own Middle East Partnership Initiative, intended to promote reform in the Arab world.  
 
“The United States is bullying smaller, weaker countries because of an ideological obsession with an illusory threat,” said Dicker. “It is putting its ill-conceived campaign ahead of other interests the U.S. government claims are its highest priorities.”  
 
For the past two years, the Bush administration has used another law, the American Service-members’ Protection Act, to threaten countries with a suspension of military aid if they do not sign the immunity agreements. Last year, the United States suspended military assistance to more than 20 countries over this issue, including aid designed to help several Eastern European countries deploy troops to Iraq. Despite persistent pressure, the United States has failed to crack the will of many ICC states. Rather, the United States has succeeded in isolating itself, Human Rights Watch said.  
 
“The United States has already alienated many countries in its campaign against the ICC,” said Dicker. “At a time when it is complaining about lack of support from its allies, the United States is stomping on other states even harder to get what it wants”.  
 
The Nethercutt amendment was first introduced into the U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill in July by U.S. Representative George Nethercutt, a Republican from Washington state. The amendment includes an exemption for countries covered under another economic assistance program known as the Millennium Challenge Account, as well as the option for the president to waive the Nethercutt Amendment’s restrictions for members of NATO and major non-NATO allies. However, these waivers are not guarantees and would still leave many countries open to pressure to violate their ICC obligations, Human Rights Watch said.  
 
The ICC can only prosecute when national courts are unwilling or unable to try genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This year, the court began investigating crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, where mass atrocities have been committed in recent years. Based in The Hague, the court has broad international support. Currently, 97 countries have ratified the Rome Statute establishing the court, and nearly 140 have signed this treaty.  
 
For more information on Human Rights Watch’s work on the International Criminal Court, see http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/icc/