Perspective: Why Does America Think It's above the Law?; George W Bush and Saddam Hussein Might Appear to Make Uneasy Bedfellows, but for Once They Are United. Chief Feature Writer Paul Groves Looks at How a New War Crimes Court Has Made Allies out of the Best of Enemies

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Groves

They represent an unlikely collection of allies. At one time or another they have been more inclined to wage war than band together, yet this surprising coalition is flexing its not inconsiderable muscles and the world is having to take notice.

You would not have got a very good price on finding the United States of America lining up shoulder to shoulder with Russia, China, Israel, North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Yet President George W Bush has discovered staunch friends in the six other states after outlining his opposition to the creation of an International Criminal Court to prosecute individuals for war crimes.

President Bush hardly endeared himself to his long-term partners after the US vetoed the extension of the United Nations' small contingent of police in Bosnia because its peacekeepers around the world have yet to be given blanket immunity from the provisions of the new criminal court.

It prompted a fiercely intensive round of diplomacy in an attempt to find a solution. Washington has now backed down from its threat to end UN peacekeeping in Bosnia after twice failing to get immunity for its soldiers from the new war crimes tribunal, but this is only a short-term concession.

The mission has been extended until July 15, giving the 15 Security Council members more time to explore any common ground in a dispute that has left the US at odds with most of the world.

In a sharply worded letter to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned the US that 'the whole system of UN peacekeeping operations is being put at risk' by its pursuit of immunity.

Yet President Bush has given little indication that he is willing to back down. As as a result he finds himself in direct opposition to our own Prime Minister, despite the fact that Tony Blair has been one of his most loyal associates.

And it still seems such an unlikely stumbling block. The International Criminal Court, based in the Netherlands, came into being on July 1 and was destined to become a worldwide cause for celebration before the gang of seven stamped their feet and called foul.

The British Government has been at the forefront of its establishment. Some 74 countries, including almost every civilised state, have ratified the original declaration.

It creates a full-time court that will replace the one-off tribunals formed to deal with atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and provides a warning to the world that there will be no more safe havens for perpetrators of war crimes.

However, the Americans were pretty quick off the mark in lodging their objections.

It argues that its position as the world's only superpower and international policeman means it should not have to be restricted by the intricacies of international law.

The US balks at the idea that its future actions might be judged by nonAmericans. More specifically, in these post-September 11 times, it is refusing to open itself to so-called politically-motivated and malicious campaigns orchestrated by its enemies.

The row has served to overshadow the fact that the court has now been created, whether the Americans and their newfound associates like it or not.

So what is the ICC and what will it do? Here is a rough guide to the new organisation.

Q: Why is there a new court?A: A permanent global criminal court has been called the missing link in the international legal system since the Nazi war crimes trials at the end of the Second World War. …