Campaign Launched Against UN Court


Filed at 2:07 a.m. ET

UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Top Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Jesse Helms have launched a new campaign against the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal, which they say will threaten American sovereignty.

Helms, R-N.C., plans to make passage of a bill barring U.S. cooperation with the court a top priority next year, a spokesman said Wednesday.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, spoke out Wednesday in favor of the bill, which Helms introduced earlier this year. It also won backing from a bipartisan group of a dozen former U.S. administration officials from Henry Kissinger to ex-CIA director R. James Woolsey.

``This court will circumscribe the United States' ability to project force ... to defend not only its (global) interests but humanitarian interests as well,'' Helms spokesman Mark Thiessen said.

The International Criminal Court, which supporters predict will start operating in two years, was created to deal with the world's most heinous crimes -- genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It would step in only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves.

But since the treaty establishing the court was signed in Rome in July 1998, the United States has been campaigning to exempt U.S. soldiers and government officials from prosecution -- so far without success.

The United States objects to the idea that American citizens could be subject to the court's jurisdiction if a crime is committed in a country that had ratified the treaty -- even if the United States is not a party. Washington says that would leave U.S. troops and citizens vulnerable to politically motivated prosecutions.

The Helms bill, sponsored by GOP leaders in both houses, would require U.S. personnel to be ``immunized'' from the court's jurisdiction before the United States would participate in any U.N. peacekeeping operations. It would also ban U.S. military assistance to any country that has ratified the treaty, with a waiver for U.S. allies that agree to protect Americans from extradition.

Helms, the conservative chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to make passage of the bill ``one of his top legislative priorities next year,'' Thiessen told a press conference as more than 100 countries met here to continue preparations for establishing the court.

The Clinton administration agrees that the court should not be able to prosecute Americans. But the administration objects to the Helms bill for a variety of reasons, including the unacceptable conditions on U.S. participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations, U.S. Mission spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn said.

The Rome treaty has been signed by almost 120 countries and needs 60 ratifications to come into force. It now has 23, and Philippe Kirsch, chairman of the commission preparing for the court's operation, said he expects that ``in two years the court will be in existence.''

Human rights groups and supporters of the court, including many U.S. allies, insist that there are sufficient protections in the treaty and that its rules of operation prevent political prosecutions.

Richard Dicker, associate counsel of Human Rights Watch, said Helms is too late to stop the court anyway.

``The train has left the station and they may not have recognized it in Washington,'' he said. ``If anything, this kind of showmanship and theatricality from the U.S. is only going to intensify governments' desire to ratify'' the treaty.

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