Criminal Neglect

By Williams, Ian | The Nation, August 10, 1998 | Go to article overview

Criminal Neglect


Williams, Ian, The Nation


The rest of the world threw the United States to the lions in Rome in mid-July with their 120-to-7 vote to establish the International Criminal Court. It also let the court keep most of the teeth that US diplomacy had spent the past six months trying to extract.

Based in The Hague, the UN-sponsored court will have an independent prosecutor who can investigate and prosecute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity--including some crimes committed in internal armed conflicts. War crimes include the use of children under 15 as soldiers, rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy. For prosecutions to begin, either the state where the crime took place, or that of the accused, must give consent. Although there are serious flaws in the treaty, overall it is far better than it would have been if the US position had prevailed.

US delegate David Scheffer told the conference, "My colleagues have worked eighteen-hour days since June 15 and every American should be proud of their efforts to achieve our objectives." However, the company to which his lonely delegation was reduced indicates that abject shame would be a more suitable emotion. The stunned US team, which had spent five weeks publicly pandering to the paranoia of the Pentagon and Jesse Helms's know-nothings, was left abandoned by all but a few strange and unsavory accomplices believed to have included China, Israel, Iraq and Libya. Israel's ominous reason for opposition was the inclusion of population transfers as an indictable crime.

The delegations who defied Washington's arm-twisting showed that although the United States may be the world's only remaining superpower, other countries increasingly see it as a microcephalic, over-muscled giant. A reason for the overwhelming majority pitted against Washington is the Administration's total lack of credibility. The United States has still not rejoined the International Court of Justice decades after the court ruled that mining Nicaraguan harbors in peacetime was illegal, and it stands to lose its vote in the UN General Assembly at the end of this year for nonpayment of back dues. None of the delegates in Rome thought there was the slightest chance of Congress signing on to the ICC, no matter how many concessions were made.

It would indeed have been better, for the world and the United States, if America were on board for the ICC, but certainly not at the price of scuttling it, as the Administration wanted. …

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