Americans exempt from war court

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 30, 2002 at 11:28 p.m.
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Defusing a trans-Atlantic spat, the European Union agreed Monday to spare American citizens the fate of standing trial on war crimes charges in the newly created International Criminal Court.
The EU foreign ministers reached a deal among themselves effectively preventing them from extraditing U.S. soldiers or government officials to the ICC as long as Washington guarantees any Americans suspected of war crimes will be tried in the United States.
The Bush administration has asked for such a blanket exemption, fearing Americans would face cavalier, politically motivated trials stemming from peacekeeping or other military operations in areas of war or crisis.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, chairman of the foreign ministers meeting, said existing extradition agreements and principles will be strictly applied, foregoing the need of new bilateral accords with Washington.
"There is no concession," he said, referring to accusations from human-rights groups that the Europeans were caving in to U.S. pressure. "There is no undermining of the International Criminal Court."
The EU said there will be no exemption from prosecution for mercenaries - free-lance soldiers who are not on a government-mandated peacekeeping or war mission but seek out a conflict or crisis on their own, officials said.
The EU foreign ministers agreed to let countries sign bilateral accords with the United States exempting Americans from an ICC trial, if they wish. Britain and Italy have said they may do that.
Those that oppose bilateral accords - for fear of a backlash at home - will apply conditions that achieve the same goal.
For instance, soldiers stationed abroad are usually exempt from prosecution in the nation where they are based under existing accords. Also, officials said, EU nations will invoke diplomatic immunity agreements for U.S. civilians - such as politicians, defense department personnel or Central Intelligence Agency employees - to keep them out of the ICC.
The EU foreign ministers said they will not exempt their nationals from any trial in the ICC, the first permanent international tribunal to judge individuals for war crimes, which opened for business in The Hague, Netherlands, in July.
EU officials insisted the ICC's integrity and effectiveness have been preserved.
"This is very important because the Milosevices and Pinochets of tomorrow will be brought to justice," said German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, referring to former authoritarian leaders of Yugoslavia and Chile.
EU governments have been under pressure from human rights groups and the European Parliament not to give in to Washington.

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