Tags: Britain | 'Backing | U.S. | Against | World | Court'

Britain 'Backing U.S. Against World Court'

Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM

The claim came as the White House prepared to tell a UN conference in New York that the US would only sign the treaty to create the court if it was given guarantees that no American would ever be put on trial before it.

As recently as August the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, opposed the US position, telling Washington that its objections were "misplaced" and that the treaty would not expose US military or civilians to vexatious prosecutions, as the White House and Republican congressional leaders believe.

Britain denies that it has weakened its approach, but human rights activists claim that it tried to block an effort by the EU to take a firm common stand this week against continuing US demands for exemption.

At an intergovernmental EU meeting in Paris on October 31, the British delegate Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who is Mr Cook's deputy legal adviser, opposed parts of a plan for European countries to unite in opposition to Washington's demand for Americans to be exempted.

The demand is among the key issues under discussion at the UN preparatory commission meeting on the international court, which began yesterday.

Campaigners say that a strong common position by EU members is crucial to resisting US efforts to secure an exemption. "A weak position by the EU will undermine the efforts of other countries to stand up to the US," Richard Dicker, of Human Rights Watch, said. "Britain is playing a dangerous game which puts the effectiveness and credibility of the court at risk."

British sources agree that Ms Wilmshurst successfully objected to part of a "lobbying note" drafted by France for presentation to the US. But Britain remained committed to the EU common position agreed in Paris, the sources said.

The US is one of only seven countries - the others include China, Iran, Iraq and Libya - which voted against the plan to set up the court, known as the Rome treaty, in 1998.

Pentagon chiefs oppose any attempt to put US service personnel under any form of international jurisdiction, and Republican leaders in Congress have made it clear that any treaty that failed to exempt the US from international jurisdiction would not stand a chance of being passed.

The court would be "dead on arrival" on Capitol Hill, the Senate foreign relations committee chairman, Jesse Helms, said earlier this year. He has even proposed legislation barring US officials from cooperating with the court as long as Congress has not ratified the treaty.

It seems unlikely that the US will ratify the treaty, even with the exemption sought by the Clinton administration, if George W Bush becomes the next president. The secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, supports the setting up of the court, but her prospective Bush administration successor, General Colin Powell, is not expected to agree.

Britain and the other EU states were among the 115 countries which signed the treaty. The court will come into existence when 60 states have ratified the treaty. So far 22 have done so, including France.

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The claim came as the White House prepared to tell a UN conference in New York that the US would only sign the treaty to create the court if it was given guarantees that no American would ever be put on trial before it. As recently as August the Foreign Secretary, Robin...
Britain,'Backing,U.S.,Against,World,Court'
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2000-00-28
Tuesday, 28 November 2000 12:00 AM
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