Immunity agreements with the US against international law, says Amnesty International

Amnesty International has called on governments to refuse to sign agreements which would give impunity to US nationals should they be accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Such agreements would undermine the International Criminal Court and violate the signatory countries’ obligations under international law, says a report released by Amnesty International on 3 September.

Amnesty International stated that immunity agreements “seek to undermine and weaken the ICC which was created to end impunity for the worst crimes known to humanity”. The organisation urged the legal advisers from the EU Member States, meeting in Brussels on 4 September, to “take the lead in stopping this campaign by asking its Member States to refuse bilateral agreements”.

Amnesty International’s report concludes that any state that enters into an immunity agreement with the USA will violate its obligations under international law. “The USA claim that the impunity agreements are in accordance with international law is wholly without merit. In fact, the agreements seek to manipulate provisions included to ensure that people accused of these crimes are brought to justice,” says the report.

 

The British Government has proposed a compromise to other EU Member States for an agreement on the International Criminal Court with the US. The proposals consists of agreeing with Washington that officials and military personnel sent by the US Government would have immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Britain is also proposing that bilateral immunity agreements, signed by the US with any other ICC signatory, should not be reciprocal.

According to theFinancial Times, this proposal is backed by Italy and Spain. Both Britain and Italy have indicated that they are willing to sign immunity agreements with the US but want to wait for the EU common position to be taken by the end of September.

The Commission and several Member States have indicated that any immunity agreements would undermine the ICC, created in July to persecute war crimes. The Commission's legal opinion states that such agreements are contrary to the Court's treaty.

 

The EU members are strong supporters of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened in The Hague in July 2002. The ICC is the first permanent court for judicial proceedings trying people charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity.

The US is concerned that the ICC could be used for politically motivated prosecutions against American peacekeepers serving abroad. Washington is seeking permanent immunity from prosecution by signing bilateral agreements with ICC signatory countries. Washington has warned that it would cut US military aid to countries who refuse to sign the immunity agreement under the new US antiterrorism law.

The candidate countries for EU membership have come under pressure from the US to give American peacekeepers immunity from the ICC. Despite Washington using its military aid and its consent on NATO enlargement as leverage, the EU has warned the candidates not to sign any agreements with the US before the EU has taken its position on the issue. The Bush administration also warned the Europeans that the US role in NATO will change unless the EU signs immunity deals.

Only Israel, Romania, Tajikistan and East Timor have signed such immunity agreements with the United States.

 

Legal advisers from the 15 EU Member States will meet on 4 September to discuss the US request.

The EU Foreign Ministers have postponed the decision on the issue until 30 September.

 

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