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Europe Should Oppose U.S. Law on War Crimes Court

(New York) - European Union governments should quickly express their opposition to the new American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA), passed by the U.S. Senate on December 7, Human Rights Watch urged in a letter to E.U. foreign ministers today.  
The ASPA would empower the U.S. president to use "all means necessary and appropriate" to free any American detained by the International Criminal Court, which will prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  
The legislation also prohibits any form of cooperation with the court by any U.S. government agency or court.  
All of the United States' allies in NATO strongly support the International Criminal Court, and most have ratified the ICC treaty already. In October, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that "adopting the ASPA would open a rift between the U.S. and the European Union on this important issue."  
"This legislation is a slap in the face to American allies in Europe," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch. "European governments have got to impress upon the Bush administration how dangerous this legislation is."  
The House passed its version of the ASPA in May. It differs from the Senate version as it restricts foreign aid to other countries unless they prevent U.S. troops within their borders from being delivered to the court. The Senate version does not have such a provision and also gives the U.S. president a broader power to waive the restrictions on U.S. cooperation with the court and its supporters.  
Human Rights Watch has strongly opposed the legislation in any form, but urged that at the very least, the presidential waiver found in the Senate version should be included in the final version of the law.  
Forty-seven nations have ratified the International Criminal Court treaty, out of sixty needed to begin the process of establishing the court. Enough states have expressed their intention to ratify that it is expected the goal of sixty will be reached in the next year.  
"The U.S. will not be successful in stopping this court," said Dicker. "This kind of rearguard bullying achieves nothing but alienating key U.S. allies."  
Many European governments have also criticized the U.S. proposal to set up military commissions to prosecute people accused of terrorism.  
"We are getting a disturbing picture of what the Bush administration sees as justice," Dicker said. "The standards of due process at the international criminal court are much higher than those permitted by President Bush's order on military commissions."  
The European Union adopted a "Common Position" on the International Criminal Court on June 11. Article 2 of the Common Position states that in order to contribute to early entry into force of the ICC treaty, "the European Union and its Member States shall make every effort to further this process by raising the issue of the widest possible ratification, acceptance, approval or accession to the Rome Statute [...]."  
Human Rights Watch urged European Union governments to redouble their efforts to ensure the early entry into force of the ICC treaty. Because some states intending to ratify the ICC treaty may now be intimidated by the new U.S. legislation, EU governments should offer reassurances that they stand more firmly than ever behind the court.

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