(New York) - The U.S. veto of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia is an outrageous but futile attempt to undermine the new International Criminal Court. The veto was followed by an agreement on Sunday night to extend the mission until July 3, so that the United Nations Security Council could continue seeking a solution. 
 
"By threatening to end peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and holding the people of Sarajevo and Srebrenica hostage, the U.S. has stooped to a new low in its efforts to undermine the court and the rule of law," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's international justice program. "Security Council members need to continue to stand their ground in the face of such bullying and pressure."  
 
The treaty establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) comes into force today, July 1, 2002. As of now, acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes could come under the authority of the ICC. Human Rights Watch hailed the new court as the biggest step forward in human rights in fifty years. In May, the Bush administration repudiated the U.S. signature on the ICC treaty, and has been conducting a campaign to undermine the court in its bilateral relations with many countries around the world.  
 
Human Rights Watch said members of the Security Council must hold firm in the coming 72 hours to prevent the United States from winning an exemption for U.N. peacekeepers from the jurisdiction of the new war crimes court.  
 
Dicker said yesterday's votes at the Security Council show that the United States is isolated in its efforts to undermine the new court. Dicker praised the thirteen members of the Security Council who withstood intense U.S. pressure to vote for a resolution exempting U.N. peacekeepers from the jurisdiction of the court.  
 
"The Security Council did the right thing by refusing to be stampeded," said Dicker. "But this drama isn't over yet. Council members have to find a way to reject Washington's assault on the court, while not sacrificing the interests of the people of Bosnia -- who have experienced genocide firsthand."  
 
Dicker also urged Washington to use this temporary reprieve as an opportunity to rethink its misguided efforts to undermine international justice.  
 
The resolution sought by Washington grants immunity from arrest, detention and prosecution for peacekeepers not only in the state that hosts a peacekeeping operation, but also in every other U.N. member state. It effectively amends the ICC treaty by carving out an exception to the ICC's jurisdiction and altering the obligations of seventy-four states that have ratified the ICC treaty and brought their domestic laws in line with the treaty's provisions.  
 
Human Rights Watch said the ICC Treaty's entry into force showed the tide against impunity could not be stopped.  
 
Either the state on whose territory the crimes occurred or the state of nationality of the accused must have ratified the ICC treaty for the court to be able to act. So far 74 states have ratified the treaty. The judges and prosecutor will be elected early in 2003.  
 
"Human Rights Watch considers this court to be a real victory for justice, for the future victims of these crimes, and for the many, many governments whose support is making this court possible," Dicker said.  
 
The ICC treaty also makes history in defining certain abuses of women's rights as major crimes. The court will seek accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against women, including rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, and other forms of grave sexual violence.  
 
"Before, when national courts failed to do justice, those responsible for mass atrocities literally got away with murder," said Dicker. "But as of today the Pol Pots and Pinochets of the future have been put on notice that they will not escape justice."