U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council on Thursday to oppose renewal of a resolution that would shield U.S. troops serving in U.N.-approved peacekeeping missions from prosecution before the International Criminal Court, saying the "exemption is wrong."
Annan noted that the United States is facing international criticism for abuses of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. He told reporters: "It would be unwise to press for an exemption, and it would be even more unwise on the part of the Security Council to grant it. It would discredit the council and the United Nations that stands for the rule of law."
The U.N. chief's remarks added momentum to a campaign by supporters of the war crimes court to defeat the U.S.-sponsored initiative. Senior U.N. diplomats said Annan would press his case in a closed-door luncheon Friday with the 15 Security Council members.
"Blanket exemption is wrong," Annan said. "It is of dubious judicial value, and I don't think it should be encouraged by the council."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is well aware of Annan's position but will press the council for renewal. The resolution, first adopted two years ago, applies to "current or former officials" from countries that have not ratified the treaty establishing the court -- which includes the United States -- and exempts them from prosecution before the court for crimes committed in U.N.-authorized operations. The council expressed an "intention" to renew the resolution each year "for as long as may be necessary."
"It should be renewed the way the council said it would," Boucher said. "And so we're still talking to other governments in New York and discussing this with them."
The United States faces fierce resistance within the council as the July 1 deadline for renewal approaches.
China has threatened to veto the resolution, citing concern that it could be use to provide political cover for abuses. U.S. and other Security Council officials say that China -- which also has not ratified the court treaty -- is confronting the United States because it recently supported Taiwan's bid for observer status in the World Health Assembly. "This could have an impact," said one council ambassador, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue. China is sending a "signal" to Washington that this "will threaten the development of bilateral relations."
U.S. diplomats acknowledge that they are struggling to line up the nine votes required to pass the resolution. Six countries -- Russia, Britain, the Philippines, Pakistan, Algeria and Angola -- are expected to support the United States, according to council diplomats.
France, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Benin and Chile have indicated they will abstain. Romania's U.N. ambassador, Mihnea Ioan Motoc, said his government will abstain unless its vote is responsible for defeating the U.S. resolution.
The International Criminal Court was established by treaty at a 1998 conference in Rome to prosecute individuals responsible for the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The treaty has been signed by 135 nations and ratified by 94; it took effect in July 2002.
President Bill Clinton signed the treaty in December 2000, but the Bush administration renounced it in May 2002, warning that it could be used to conduct frivolous trials against U.S. troops. The United States subsequently threatened to shut down U.N. peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and East Timor unless the council exempted U.S. personnel from prosecution.
That strategy has fueled resentment against the Bush administration at the United Nations. More than 40 countries have a standing request to discuss the resolution in a public debate. A senior diplomat said most nations will use the event to criticize the resolution, and to draw attention to U.S. abuses of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We think the resolution is not compatible with the U.N. charter," one Canadian diplomat said. "It's harmful to international accountability for serious crimes and the rule of law."