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From the July 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 7)

Viewpoints

Washington Spurns the International Criminal Court

Comment from Tokyo, Beirut, Paris, Singapore, London, Fortaleza, Madrid, Mexico City, Calgary, and Karachi

International Criminal Court
A cell at a high-tech prison attached to the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (Photo: AFP).
Karachi Dawn (centrist), May 7: When the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty was adopted in Rome on July 1998 by over 120 countries, the United States was one of only seven countries which voted against it. The United States was concerned about its nationals being “dragged before the ICC” for “politically motivated prosecutions”....Dubya’s dubious move or contemplated action of “unsigning” the ICC treaty would be unprecedented in the legal history of the United States and also probably in the annals of modern international law....It is ironic that the closest parallel to the threatened or contemplated action of the United States in regard to the ICC treaty was that of the world’s most isolated and repressive state under the tutelage of Kim Jong Il.   
 —Myint Zan

Calgary Calgary Herald (left-wing), May 8: The Bush administration’s decision to dump the International Criminal Court makes sense because the concept failed both ideological and pragmatic tests. Ideologically, it lacks political accountability, and its application is uncertain. Judges are supposed to be politically independent, while prosecutors report to an elected politician. The first is mirrored in the ICC; the second is not. Prosecutors report to judges. This is likely to lead to an inquisitorial, judge-directed style of prosecution....The ICC’s pragmatic flaw is that it will always be a tool of the overdog, without which it cannot impose justice. But as a court of the victors, it will never be considered impartial.

Mexico City Reforma (independent), May 9: With his refusal [to uphold the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court], Bush reveals the superpower’s fears and insecurities, and also the political nearsightedness of the group of ideologues around him....The work of the court in The Hague will begin with or without U.S. participation; however, the decision made by President Bush shakes the institution at its foundations by questioning its credibility and effectiveness. 
—Sergio Muñoz Bata

Madrid El País (liberal), May 8: The severity of the U.S. decision is difficult to exaggerate. The emblem country of every freedom will not acknowledge the jurisdiction nor observe the orders of the only penal instrument of global scope to fight the worst crimes against people. The measure will obviously have a multiplying effect. It is the perfect alibi for all doubtful governments that, with Washington leading, would have lengthened the list of signatories. It may mean a dangerous green light for the abrogation of treaties by countries with few scruples. Bush’s decision undermines the moral authority of Washington and compromises the notion that democratic countries have of the United States. In a word, it doesn’t correspond to the type of leadership that the West is hoping for in this area.

Fortaleza, Brazil O Povo (left-wing), May 8: The United States justifies its refusal to ratify the International Criminal Court treaty by saying that America could become the target of enemies worldwide. However, those who drafted the Rome statutes showed that this would be impossible, given the mechanisms put into place to prevent such action on the part of any country. The truth is, Washington believes that the ICC may limit its margin of action in the use of force where the interests of the country are at stake....In reality, the prioritization of security by the Bush administration has resulted in the toppling of international statutes by the United States abroad, as well as of civil liberties at home. The numbers of accusations regarding human-rights violations by the United States have risen alarmingly since the attack of Sept. 11.

London The Daily Telegraph (conservative), May 8: There is a tendency to try to use international systems to turn America into a pariah nation—what Chris Patten has called a “rogue superpower.” Britain should have no part in this. There is no proven need for a permanent international criminal court. War crimes, from the Second World War on, have been dealt with by special tribunals—the most recent being those set up for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. It is hard to see how the new court would add anything to what they have achieved. It is all too easy to envisage it being abused for political ends.

Singapore The Straits Times (independent), May 10: The court was “unaccountable”; it was inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, and by implication it threatened America’s sovereignty and the legal protections given its soldiers and public officials....The United States appears to be saying international law is modular, invoked when it serves its interests, but national sovereignty is paramount. The Reagan administration mocked the authority of the International Court of Justice when it found the United States guilty of aggression for mining Nicaragua’s harbors during the CIA-directed campaign against the Sandinistas in the 1980s. This is not conduct expected of a nation that asserts its moral right to defend cherished values and punish iniquities beyond its borders. The sad thing is, America has a record in armed intervention it can be more proud of than ashamed.

Paris Le Monde (liberal), May 7: The battle that the United States is now waging is futile as far as it concerns the protection of its own nationals. Americans—political leaders or soldiers on a foreign mission—who were implicated in war crimes would not escape prosecution if the country where the crimes were committed was a signatory to the International Criminal Court. It is therefore more a question of political intimidation and of ideology on the part of the Bush administration....The United States is not ready now to recognize this judicial dimension in international relations when it cannot control the court that will be its instrument.
—Claire Tréan

Beirut The Daily Star (independent, English-language), May 13: This latest unrivaled American position against the International Court of Justice is similar to the abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol 18 months ago, when the United States...undermined international cooperation on climate change....An urgent matter for the International Criminal Court to resolve would be the immoral Israeli-American collusion against the very existence of the Palestinian people and the international environmental crimes perpetrated by the American administration. Similarities between those two cases are abundant, whereas brutal power leads to arrogance and the negation of the rights of others.

Tokyo The Japan Times (independent), May 13: In unceremoniously rejecting all these painstakingly negotiated multilateral regimes, Washington is shortsightedly dismissive of its partners’ national interests, which are embedded in multilateralism. Like all countries, [the United States] too would like to be thought of as virtuous. But its security policy rests on hard-nosed calculations of national interests, not on the pedestal of moral virtue.
—Ramesh Thakur

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