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Senators Fight War Crimes Treaty

July 23, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate critics of a treaty creating an international war crimes tribunal urged the Clinton administration Thursday to work for the treaty’s demise.

In a major diplomatic setback, the United States last week declined to sign the treaty it promoted for years because American officials felt the final accord yielded too much prosecutorial power to the new court, leaving U.S. troops and citizens vulnerable to potentially unfair prosecution.

Instead, the United States watched as 120 nations, including most of its closest allies, approved the treaty at a conference in Rome in spite of long-argued U.S. reservations. In voting against it, the United States found itself siding only with countries frequently accused of human rights violations: Iraq, China, Libya, Qatar, Yemen and Israel.

Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, nonetheless said, ``The United States must fight this treaty.″

Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., said he hoped the court would ``share the same fate as the League of Nations, and collapses without U.S. support.″

Helms promised to seek assurances from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that all future extradition treaties exempt U.S. citizens from prosecution by the new court and that U.S. soldiers not participate in NATO or U.N. operations until allies agree that the troops would not be subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

Helms also said the United States should renegotiate with its allies agreements that govern the operations of U.S. forces deployed abroad and not station American troops in countries that refuse to exempt them from the new court’s authority.

The Clinton administration has not yet decided what action it will take on the treaty, but holds out hope it can persuade other countries to amend it to U.S. specifications, chief U.S. negotiator David Scheffer told a Senate panel.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also expressed hope that the treaty could be altered to conform to U.S. concerns. ``The victims of the atrocities and the war crimes of this century demand our continued effort,″ she said.

The treaty must be ratified by 60 countries before taking effect, a process that could take years.

The new court _ based at The Hague, Netherlands, site of the current Yugoslav war crimes tribunal _ will seek to bring individuals to justice for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, a crime the signatory nations plan to define later.

Independent of the United Nations, it will be able to act even when the international community is divided, as it was in the Balkans and with several ethnic conflicts in Africa. The court’s cases can begin with a referral from a member nation, the U.N. Security Council or an independent prosecutor.

Scheffer said the ability of the prosecutor to start investigations could make those decisions political and overwhelm the court with complaints.

The United States also opposes provisions that give the court jurisdiction over non-signatory states and authority to prosecute for terrorism, drug crimes, and the undefined crime of aggression.

Many U.S.-based international human rights groups want the United States to reconsider its rejection of the treaty.

``The purpose of the (court) is not to impinge on U.S. sovereignty but to nab war criminals,″ said Carroll Bogert, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch. ``The U.S. has been a beacon of human rights for decades, and it’s tragic that they’ve been left in the dust in Rome.″

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