The United States announced today that it would not proceed with a Security Council resolution that would have extended, for a third consecutive year, the immunity of some United Nations peacekeepers from prosecution by the world's first permanent war crimes tribunal.
Reacting to the US decision, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said through his spokesman the move would help maintain the Council's unity "at a time when it faces difficult challenges."
Last month the US introduced a text to renew the peacekeepers' exemption from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is based in The Hague. First adopted in July 2002, and renewed last year, the resolution shields members of UN peacekeeping missions who come from nations which have not ratified the treaty setting up the ICC from investigation or prosecution. It is due to expire on 30 June.
In a statement, the Deputy US Representative to the UN, Ambassador James B. Cunningham, said that while Washington still held the same concerns about the ICC that led to the resolution in 2002, it "has decided not to proceed with further consideration and action on the draft at this time to avoid a prolonged and divisive debate."
Ambassador Cunningham said the US would consider the risk of review by the ICC in deciding its future contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. He added that the US would continue to seek bilateral agreements with individual Member States to protect US nationals from the reach of the ICC.
The ICC will be able to try to individuals of war crimes such as genocide, mass murder and torture committed after 1 July 2002, when it formally came into existence. It will try individuals from States that are unwilling or unable to exercise jurisdiction. Over 90 countries have ratified the Statute and dozens of others have signed, indicating their intention to ratify.
Last week Mr. Annan said that if the exemption from prosecution was extended, it would hurt the credibility of the Security Council and the UN.
"[The] blanket exemption is wrong. It is of dubious judicial value, and I don't think it should be encouraged by the Council…I think it would be unfortunate for one to press for such an exemption, given the [recent reports of] prisoner abuse in Iraq," he said.