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U.S. rejection of court defies law, logic and morality


On July 1, a historic event occurred of great international importance. The Rome Statute establishing the first International Criminal Court in human history went into force. The court will be fully operational by mid-2003. This means that the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide will henceforth be indicted and tried.

But the United States will be on the sidelines. To the chagrin of the whole world, President Bush announced that the United States would refuse to join and that, in addition, America would pull out of the United Nations peacekeeping operations unless all U.S. personnel involved received immunity from the court.

The United Nations declined to offer immunity in advance, but the issue is pending. The Bush White House is wrong in its demand because no alleged crime committed before July 1, 2002, may even be investigated, much less prosecuted.

In addition, no charges against American soldiers would be necessary because the United States has committed itself to follow the four 1949 Geneva Accords on the conduct on war.

The White House warns about “political” charges being made by some of the 76 nations that have joined the International Criminal Court. These countries that might charge American soldiers and others have reason to distrust the United States, but would they bring charges alleging violations of the serious crimes covered by the court?

I served on the task force of the American Bar Association on the court. All of the proposals were examined by jurists and diplomats of every ideological orientation. The United States refused to join for reasons that cannot be justified by law, logic or morality.

Indeed, the United States was the original author of the idea of the world court when it created the Nuremberg tribunal following World War II. The International Criminal Court is a permanent Nuremberg tribunal.

There are now 9,166 Americans in peacekeeping missions under NATO or under a U.N. mandate. No member of any peacekeeping mission has ever been charged with the crimes now under the jurisdiction of the court.

The demand of the United States for immunity from the court elevates and aggravates the Pentagon’s tendency to defy world opinion and think only of its own subjective prepossessions. It wants to be the only player on the world stage. Its defense budget is now larger than the total budgets of all of the 14 next largest nations.

As I write this on July 8, it is not clear whether the United Nations will ease its own rules and procedures to cater to the unreasonable demands of the White House. But even if the United Nations does what the White House desires, America will have lost friends because of its bullying tactics.

The unsupportable demands of the United States on the International Criminal Court have triggered world reflections on the present mood and posture of America in its dealings with its friends and allies. America, as never before, looks like the Lone Ranger following its own self-centered wishes in disregard of the counsel of former allies and friends.

Schoolchildren will soon be learning that July 1, 2002, was a very significant date in the history of the world. A dream long hoped for has become a reality. The rule of law became the law of the world. The absence of the United States will be one more reason why millions of schoolchildren will accept the suspicions and fears their parents and teachers have for the United States.

No one says that the International Criminal Court is a perfect way to prevent genocide and related crimes. But if the United States cooperated, its structures and its enforcement could be improved.

The Holy See has approved the International Criminal Court. The boycott of the United States will hinder other nations from participating actively in the mission of the court.

The sole superpower is searching for its role in the world. It has failed to follow the path of truth and justice in its indefensible rejection of the International Criminal Court.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. His e-mail address is drinan@law.georgetown.edu

National Catholic Reporter, July 19, 2002