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Dateline: 05/07/02

Through a letter to the U.N., the Bush administration has reserved the right of the U.S. to ignore decisions and orders issued by the International Criminal Court. The action effectively neutralizes President Clinton's signature to the treaty creating the court.

Established under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998, the court was established to serve as an ad hoc world tribunal responsible for prosecuting war crimes and "crimes against humanity," when national criminal justice systems are "unwilling or unable to act." [See: Establishment of the Court]

While human rights organizations have expressed outrage over President Bush's action, former President Clinton, who signed the treaty on behalf of the U.S. on Dec. 31, 2000, stated at the time that he did not intend to sending the pact to the Senate for official ratification. Clinton stated that he agreed to sign the treaty only to allow the U.S. to participate in discussions on the court's structure and jurisdiction.

Both former President Clinton and President Bush expressed reservations that the treaty could lead to politically-motivated prosecution of U.S. government leaders or military personnel.

While Canada and all but one of the 15 nations of the European Union have ratified the treaty since 1998, U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues Pierre-Richard Prosper is quoted in an Associated Press article as stating that President Bush's action makes it clear to the U.N. that, "we [the U.S.] are not going to be a party to the process." 

"It frees us from some of the obligations that are incurred by signature. When you sign, you have an obligation not to take actions that would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty," said Prosper.

By not ratifying the treaty, explained Prosper, the U.S. can now take actions such as rejecting extradition requests by the International Court, choosing instead to send suspects back to their home country to stand trial.

Prosper stated that the U.S. preferred to place its trust in limited international tribunals created to deal with specific conflicts, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

Since President Clinton signed it in 2000, objections to the treaty have come from Republican Senators who contend that it could allow the International Court to claim jurisdiction over all U.S. military personnel serving overseas. During negotiations on the treaty, the U.S. failed to obtain adequate assurances that U.S. soldiers abroad would not be tried before the International Court.

According to the Associated Press, at least 24 human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights and the Rainbow Push Coalition have criticized President Bush's decision to neutralize the U.S.' signature of the treaty.

"It undermines American leadership and credibility at the worst possible time," stated the coalition of organizations in a joint-statement. "This rash action signals to the world that America is turning its back on decades of U.S. leadership in prosecuting war criminals since the Nuremberg trials."

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