In recent days, a Bush administration team of negotiators has visited the Balkans in an attempt to obtain bilateral immunity agreements exempting U.S. nationals from the court. On May 28, the U.S. Ambassador to Croatia published an open letter in a Zagreb daily, raising the pressure on the Croatian government to sign an immunity deal. The Ambassador warned Croatia that it would lose $19 million in military assistance if it failed to sign and issued a veiled threat that Croatia's accession into NATO is contingent on an immunity agreement.
"In light of the war-related atrocities affecting hundreds of thousands of victims and implicating senior leaders as war criminals, the ratification of the ICC Treaty by all the former Yugoslav republics was particularly significant," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "It is therefore vital that Croatia and Slovenia not cave in to U.S. threats."
On June 2, after the breakdown of talks between the U.S. team and Slovene officials, the U.S. negotiating team committed to continue lobbying the Slovenian government, also threatening the withdrawal of military assistance. Despite these pressures, both Croatia and Slovenia have so far rebuffed the U.S. threats, looking instead to the European Union, which has urged the former Yugoslav republics to reject Washington's bullying.
"While the United States rightly insists that the former Yugoslav republics must fully cooperate with the ITCY, it is turning the screws on the very same states not to cooperate with the ICC," said Dicker.
Human Rights Watch said that by rejecting the U.S. government blackmail, Zagreb and Ljubljana have stood firmly behind principles of justice, accountability and the rule of law. "Both governments have adopted the principled approach to this court advocated by their European partners," said Dicker.
While the Bush administration marshals extensive diplomatic resources to pursue its agenda, Croatia, Slovenia and European Union members have responded very differently. In reaching out to its neighbors on this issue, the European Union has maintained that the U.S. immunity requests are incompatible with a fair and effective ICC.
"Giving in to the U.S. request for immunity would endorse a two-tiered system of justice -- one for U.S. citizens and one for the rest of the world," said Dicker.
The United States has had some success in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania recently signed immunity deals, although their parliaments have yet to ratify them. Serbia and Montenegro and the Republic of Macedonia have also been targets of recent pressure by U.S. negotiators.
Human Rights Watch said the ratification of the ICC Treaty by all former Yugoslav republics is particularly significant. War crimes trials conducted at the ICTY in The Hague over the past seven years have demonstrated that international tribunals can pursue accountability in a manner that honors the rights of both victims and perpetrators. As a permanent court with wide-ranging jurisdiction that is not limited to a particular conflict, the ICC has been built on the experiences of the ICTY.
For more information on the International Criminal Court, please visit http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/icc/