(New York) - In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Human Rights Watch today voiced serious concern about the State Department's endorsement of the American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA), legislation which would attempt to undermine the establishment of a permanent war crimes court.
The ASPA has been characterized as "The Hague Invasion Act" because it authorizes the U.S. to use force to liberate any U.S. or allied persons detained on behalf of the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC), which will be based in The Hague, The Netherlands.  
The ASPA also prohibits U.S. military assistance to those states that ratify the ICC treaty, except for NATO members and some major non-NATO allies.  
The Bush administration expressed its support for the ASPA in a September 25 letter from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, Paul Kelly, to Senator Jesse Helms, who is sponsoring the legislation.  
Yesterday, Washington's closest ally, the United Kingdom, became the forty-second country to ratify the ICC treaty. Once sixty countries ratify the treaty, the court will be established, most likely in 2002. Virtually every key U.S. ally and every member of the European Union strongly supports the creation of the court, and a number of European allies have expressed concern about the ASPA and the Bush Administration's endorsement of it.  
"The United States is forging a global coalition against terrorism, and the State Department has just endorsed a bill that authorizes an invasion of the Netherlands," said Richard Dicker, Director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "This makes no sense. It hardly seems like a good moment for the U.S. to be threatening sanctions against dozens of countries simply because they want to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against humanity."  
Although the State Department was able to negotiate with Helms a presidential waiver in the ASPA that could lessen the legislation's effect, it has also made clear that it would oppose all conceivable legislative alternatives to the ASPA. This action could undermine U.S. credibility in forging coalitions against human rights abusers, Human Rights Watch said, and it will have no success in preventing entry into force of the treaty, since the pace of ratifications has already proven even faster than expected.  
"The American Servicemembers Protection Act is misnamed and ill-timed," said Dicker. "The State Department's decision to support it is inexplicable. This court represents the greatest advance in human rights protection in the last fifty years."