Efforts by the U.S. Department of Defense to mobilize foreign militaries in an effort to weaken the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC) were condemned by Human Rights Watch today. 
In a document dated March 27, 1998, the Pentagon urges non-U.S. military officials to "take an active interest in the negotiations regarding an international criminal court." The Department of Defense distributed the memorandum to military attaches based at embassies in Washington, and to NATO partners in Brussels. Some of these officers represent militaries with extremly poor human rights records.  
U.S. officials have stated that American peacekeepers could be become the target of frivolous or politically-motivated cases before the ICC. In trying to enlist the support of armed forces from countries with a history of human rights abuse, however, the Pentagon is encouraging military officers who might have reason to fear ICC prosecution to take an active role in weakening the court before it is created.  
After outlining the Pentagon's reservations about the ICC, the document concludes: "We ask you to support these critical positions. MOD engagement is particularly important because military personnel would be significantly affected by an ICC." MOD evidently refers to Ministry of Defense.  
In an April 10 letter to Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Human Rights Watch expressed its "profound concern" that the United States is "appealing to the worst instincts of some of the worst abusers of human rights." A copy of the letter is attached.  
"They're calling in the foxes to help build the chicken coop," said Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch. "The Pentagon should not resort to enlisting the Pinochets of the world to lobby against the creation of an independent and effective ICC."  
After three years of preliminary drafting, the statute to establish a permanent International Criminal Court will be negotiated at a diplomatic conference scheduled for June 15 - July 17, 1998 in Rome. The proposed Court will prosecute those accused in future cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes when domestic courts have failed to investigate or prosecute these crimes. More than fifty governments, and hundreds of non-governmental organizations, view the establishment of the ICC as a historic opportunity to enforce international humanitarian law and deter future atrocities.  
Concerned that the Court might prosecute American military personnel, the United States has been pressing for broad restrictions on the powers of the ICC and its prosecutor. Human Rights Watch believes that the these restrictions are unnecessary. The ICC will only have jurisdiction when domestic courts have been unable or unwilling to prosecute the crimes of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity. An effective prosecution by a U.S. federal court or court martial would bar the ICC from taking any further action.