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LATIN AMERICA
12/19/2002
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International Criminal Court h

Plans for the International Criminal Court (ICC) are moving ahead even though the United States has rescinded its signature on the treaty and is pressuring countries around the world to grant US military and civilian personnel immunity from prosecution in the court. Nine jurists from Latin America and the Caribbean are among the 45 nominees for judges for the court, which is scheduled to begin operation during the first half of next year in The Hague, Netherlands.

The ICC, the world’s first permanent tribunal to prosecute cases of war crimes, genocide, and other crimes against humanity, is the culmination of a campaign that began with trials for German and Japanese war criminals after World War II. The court’s governing body held its first meeting Sept. 3 at UN headquarters in New York.

US President George W. Bush’s May decision to rescind the US signature on the Rome Statute of the ICC could have repercussions in Latin America. Washington has threatened to cut off aid to countries that do not sign bilateral immunity agreements.

According to José Antonio Guevara, Latin America and Caribbean coordinator for the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have reportedly signed such accords.

"All other countries have put off signing agreements, looking for arguments like the one Colombia used, that existing agreements already offer this type of protection," Guevara said. "Argentina gave a similar response."

Colombia, which has received US$1.7 billion in mostly military US aid in the past two years, is a focal point for the debate in the region. US troops are already in the country as military advisers and trainers, and the United States has pledged to protect the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline that carries oil pumped by US-based Occidental Petroleum.

If US troops became more deeply involved in the Colombia conflict and there were accusations of war crimes, "under an impunity agreement, those crimes could not be judged by Colombian courts, let alone the International Criminal Court," Guevara said.

Colombia’s Constitutional Court approved the legality of the ICC on July 30. Judge Manuel José Cepeda said the decision would ensure that those guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes would not enjoy impunity. But on Aug. 5, two days before President Alvaro Uribe took office (LP, Sept. 9, 2002), the administration of outgoing President Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) quietly exercised its right under the Rome Statute to obtain a one-time, seven-year exemption from ICC jurisdiction.

Article 124 allows signatory countries to "declare that, for a period of seven years after the entry into force of this statute for the state concerned, it does not accept the jurisdiction of the court with respect to [war crimes] alleged to have been committed by its nationals or in its territory."

According to human rights experts, the decision effectively grants immunity for war crimes to any US soldiers or contractors working in Colombia. Guevara said there have been reports that Uribe is considering withdrawing its request for an exemption. "That would be very beneficial for avoiding impunity," he said, adding that it would probably lead to increased US pressure for a bilateral immunity agreement.

Argentine officials dismissed the possibility that the country would grant immunity to US soldiers participating in training exercises in Argentina. Foreign Minister Carlos Ruckauf said on Sept. 3 that the government’s answer to a US request for immunity would be "negative." The Argentine press had reported that Washington had asked Argentina to sign a bilateral agreement.

On Sept. 4, Brazil rejected US Ambassador Donna Hrinak’s request to sign such an accord. "Brazil is not going to sign any immunity pact with the United States," Defense Minister Geraldo Quintão said. Some Brazilian military analysts suggested that US officials want to be able to pursue Colombian guerrillas in Brazilian territory, if necessary. Brazilian government and military officials are concerned that the Colombian conflict could spill over the countries’ shared border (LP, Oct. 16, 2000).

If other countries do sign agreements with the United States, Guevara said, they could follow the lead of the European Union, which approved conditions that would extend immunity only to people such as diplomats, who are already covered by current treaties, and require the United States to judge the accused in its own courts.

Most Latin American countries have signed and ratified the Rome Statute of the ICC. Ratification is pending in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico, as well as Guyana, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and a handful of other Caribbean island nations.

The court will eventually have a panel of 18 judges. The first six will be selected in February. Nominations include Luis María Benítez Riera, a criminal appeals court judge from Paraguay; René Blattmann, former Bolivian minister of justice; Antonio Boggiano, a former president of Argentina’s Supreme Court; Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, former attorney general of Trinidad and Tobago; Roberto MacLean, a former Peruvian Supreme Court judge; Rafael Nieto Navia of Colombia, who served on the International Criminal Court in the former Yugoslavia and is a former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; Elizabeth Odio Benito, former Costa Rican justice minister; Víctor Rodríguez-Cedeño of Venezuela, a member of the UN International Law Commission; and Brazilian federal appeals court judge Sylvia Helena de Figueiredo Steiner.

ICC RATIFICATION

Country

Signed

Ratified

Argentina

1/8/99

2/8/01

Bahamas

12/19/00

No

Barbados

9/8/00

No

Bolivia

7/17/98

6/27/02

Brazil

2/7/00

6/20/02

Chile

9/11/98

No

Colombia

12/10/98

8/5/02

Costa Rica

10/7/98

6/7/01

Cuba

No

No

Dom. Rep.

9/8/00

No

Ecuador

10/7/98

2/5/02

El Salvador

No

No

Guatemala

No

No

Guyana

12/28/00

No

Haiti

2/26/99

No

Honduras

10/7/98

7/1/02

Jamaica

9/8/00

No

Mexico

9/7/00

No

Nicaragua

No

No

Panama

7/18/98

3/21/02

Paraguay

10/7/98

5/14/01

Peru

12/7/00

11/10/01

St. Lucia

8/27/99

No

Suriname

No

No

Trin. & Tob.

3/23/99

4/6/99

Uruguay

12/19/00

6/28/02

Venezuela

10/14/98

6/7/00


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