(New York) - With the expiration of its July 1 deadline to cut off military aid to states supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Bush administration should end its ill-conceived campaign to weaken the court, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA) revokes military assistance to countries that have ratified the ICC unless they conclude a separate bilateral agreement with the United States by July 1, agreeing never to hand over U.S. personnel to the ICC.
Despite a yearlong campaign by the U.S. diplomatic corps, only about 48 countries have signed such agreements so far, the majority of them small and poor countries that have not ratified the ICC treaty anyway and therefore have no obligation to transfer U.S. personnel to the court.
"U.S. ambassadors have been acting like schoolyard bullies," said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. campaign has not succeeded in undermining global support for the court. But it has succeeded in making the U.S. government look foolish and mean-spirited."
The letter cites several examples of U.S. hardball tactics:
- U.S. Ambassador Richard Blankenship publicly warned the Bahamas that if it did not support the U.S. position on the ICC, a significant amount of U.S. aid would be withheld, including funds for paving and lighting an airport runway.
- An Assistant Secretary of State informed foreign ministers of Caribbean states that they would lose the benefits for hurricane relief and rural dentistry and veterinary programs if their governments did not sign.
"U.S. officials are engaged in a worldwide campaign pressing small, vulnerable and often fragile democratic governments," said the Human Rights Watch letter, signed by executive director Kenneth Roth. "Because most ICC member states are democracies with a relatively strong commitment to the rule of law, the threatened aid cutoffs represent a sanction primarily targeting states that abide by democratic values."
The exact number of countries that have signed bilateral immunity agreements is unclear, since some of the agreements are "secret." But at least 38 of them are classified as "less developed" or "least developed" countries by the United Nations Development Program index.
Most of the ICC's 18 judges come from countries closely allied with the United States. Luis Moreno Ocampo, an Argentine national who was most recently the Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies at Harvard Law School, has recently been sworn in as the court's Chief Prosecutor.
"No one really believes that Moreno Ocampo is likely to indulge in unwarranted prosecutions of American citizens," said Dicker. "It's really time for the Bush administration to wake up from its own nightmarish delirium."