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EU Commitment to Criminal Court Facing Test

(Brussels) - The European Union's long-standing commitment to the International Criminal Court (ICC) must resist Washington's pressure to exempt U.S. nationals from the court. 
In a letter sent to all EU member states on August 23, 2002, Human Rights Watch urged the European Union to resist being intimidated by the Bush administration's continuing attacks on the ICC. The U.S. government is trying to negotiate separate bilateral agreements that would grant blanket immunity to its nationals.  
On August 30-31, 2002, EU foreign ministers will convene for an informal meeting in Denmark. Formulating a response to Washington's bilateral "impunity agreements" will be on the agenda.
"The EU foreign ministers must deal with these 'impunity agreements' with a sharp legal analysis," said Lotte Leicht, Brussels director of Human Rights Watch. "There is no lawful basis in the ICC treaty's Article 98 for such agreements with the United States. The European Union has a Common Position to defend the integrity of the treaty and now it is time to stand by that position."  
On September 4, 2002, EU legal advisers will meet in Brussels to further consider the legal and policy implications raised by the U.S. impunity agreements. The European Commission has reportedly issued a paper concluding the agreements sought by Washington are not envisaged by the ICC Treaty and would violate an EU member state's obligations under the treaty.  
"The European Union must proceed very carefully through this legal minefield," said Leicht. "At the very least, EU members should defer adoption of any position to provide more time to analyze and fully debate the legal and policy implications."  
All 15 EU members have ratified the ICC treaty. The European Union adopted a Common Position on the ICC in June 2001. It was further reinforced in June 2002 and commits EU members to support the effective functioning of the ICC and to promote the widest possible participation with the court. Endorsing impunity agreements for U.S. nationals appears to be totally inconsistent with the principles contained in the EU Common Position.  
"This is a clear test of the European Union's Common Position on the court and a coordinated foreign policy," said Leicht. "If the European Union blinks now, the most hard core unilateralists in the Bush administration will draw considerable encouragement for other foreign policy initiatives in which international law will be challenged."  
The ICC's jurisdiction began on July 1, 2002. On September 3, the court's historic first Assembly of States Parties will convene at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Made up of states that have ratified the ICC treaty, the assembly is the ICC's governing body. Seventy-eight states have ratified the treaty. More states are expected to ratify the treaty soon in order to participate in the election of judges and the prosecutor early next year. The court's "Advance Team" is already at work in The Hague creating the technical and administrative infrastructure that the court will need to open in 2003.

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