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Why is the US defending the honor of the International Criminal Court? 0

Two weeks ago, Uganda’s President Museveni inaugurated his fourth decade in power.

And as strange things happen at swearing-in ceremonies around the continent these days, this one was no exception. Officials from the US, Canada and Europe walked out of the ceremony when Museveni mocked the International Criminal Court (ICC), calling its officials “a bunch of useless people.”

To be sure, it must also have been quite uncomfortable for the western diplomats to share the stage with Sudan’s president Omar al Bashir, an ICC fugitive who is wanted for alleged crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. (We have previously written on the drama that accompanies Bashir on his travels here.)

But, what if the US diplomats walked out just because their European cousins did? This is a serious question, because, frankly, it’s hard to entertain the idea that the US could be offended by someone criticizing the ICC. Successive US administrations fought tooth and nail for the ICC not to see the light of the day as we know it, although it is true that the Obama administration is a bit friendlier to the Court than previous ones. But the fact remains that there are still laws and policies in Washington that are specifically designed to make the ICC’s work impossible, if it ever decided to go after US interests.

David Scheffer, the first US Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes – or “Ambassador for Hell” as some people called him – wrote a fascinating memoir in which he recounts, among other things, the US delegation’s attempt to tailor the ICC during the drafting of the Rome Statute in 1998.  As head of the US delegation in Rome, Scheffer wrote,

“I struggled to avoid the train wreck at Rome only to embrace certain defeat. I would have risked my own removal from the negotiations if I had pressed too openly or too hard on the Pentagon or on Senator Jesse Helms, so I had to maneuver in ways that steadily built broader circles of support for the policies that stood any chance of adoption at Rome… The stubbornness of various Washington agencies and officials in seeking full immunity from prosecution for American soldiers and other citizens, regardless of whether the United States joined the International Criminal Court, seemed at times to be forged in Alice’s Wonderlands (p. 413).”

The bone of contention here is that the US administration was hell-bent on ensuring that no American citizen would face the ICC, ever. And when efforts to place the ICC prosecutor under the supervision of the UN Security Council failed, the Singapore Compromise provided for a middle ground, where the Security Council may refer cases to the ICC and also defer them for periods of 12 months. But even that was not good enough for the US.

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by Oumar Ba

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