The United States recently withheld military assistance from 35 democratic countries because of their resistance to bilateral immunity agreements (BIAs), which exempt U.S. citizens from the first global court to try those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. These agreements, in the form requested by the United States so far, are not only contrary to article 98(2) of the ICC treaty but also to international law as they defeat the “object and purpose” of the Rome Statute.
“While politicians insist that relationships between the United States and the Baltics have not been strained by the prohibition of aid, the truth is that the three countries are being unfairly punished,” said Isaac Flattau of Human Rights Watch.
However, despite the setback Latvia has suffered to its military funding, Human Rights Watch applauds Latvia’s legally sound decision to resist U.S. demands and thus meet its legal obligations under the ICC treaty. Latvia has demonstrated once more its strong support for the Court, especially since Anita Usacka, a former Constitutional Court judge in Latvia, is one of the first 18 judges elected to the court.
Latvia has joined the EU and 9 other EU accession states, as well as a growing group of countries that have reaffirmed their principled stance against impunity by refusing to sign a BIA with the United States. EU’s strong position regarding BIAs was renewed last June 15 with the adoption of a new Common Position that called on EU member states to assist states in withstanding U.S. pressure to sign a BIA.
The United States’ punitive measures often go above and beyond the mere implementation of the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA), a piece of anti-ICC legislation passed by Congress last year. A senior Latvian diplomat told Human Rights Watch that the Bush Administration has even decided to withhold $2.7 million in promised supplemental funding to support Latvian troops in Iraq. At the same time, the United States will still financially support Lithuania’s participation in Iraq although additional military aid is still being withheld.
Moreover, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are on the brink of joining NATO, and consequently, all of their military aid will be restored in the spring of 2004. Intermittently starting and stopping the flow of aid demonstrates the erratic nature of the United States’ campaign to undermine the ICC.
“The Bush administration is irrationally threatening some of its key friends, including Latvia,” said Flattau. “This is a highly short-sighted and counter-productive approach to U.S. foreign policy.”
Indeed, targeted states of the anti-ICC campaign include crucial allies in the global campaign against terrorism and the war on drugs, two essential elements of U.S. foreign policy. Military aid has also been suspended for six out of seven NATO accession states, while it is common knowledge that the expansion of NATO has long been a priority for the U.S. State Department. Much to the surprise of the Bush administration, these states pledge to continue to support the ICC, rather than bend under U.S. pressure.
“Latvia and the other 34 states that suffered suspension of military aid should not be punished,” said Flattau, “for respecting the rule of law, a principle which the United States claims to hold dear.”