The Bush administration has decided to withdraw nine U.S. soldiers serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa and the Balkans, citing the U.N. Security Council's refusal this month to renew a resolution shielding Americans from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, U.S. and U.N. officials said Friday.
The decision to withdraw the troops, who are serving in two U.N. operations in Ethiopia and Eritrea and in Kosovo, followed an interagency review on the potential risks to U.S. personnel working in U.N. peacekeeping missions. A Pentagon official said the United States singled out those missions because they are based in countries or territories that have not signed agreements with the United States pledging not to surrender U.S. personnel to the court.
Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said in a briefing Thursday that the United States will "evaluate" the importance of U.S. participation in U.N. missions on a case-by-case basis in light of "the risks of U.S. exposure" to prosecution by the court. "But in these two particular cases, it was determined . . . that the risk was not appropriate to our forces."
Di Rita said the United States will immediately withdraw six of the troops, leaving behind three officials with senior positions in the Ethiopia and Eritrea mission until the United Nations can find replacements.
A U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, said the United Nations had been notified of the U.S. decision and that it "took note of it with regret." U.N. officials said that while the U.S. action sends a troubling signal about Washington's continued support for U.N. peacekeeping, it will have limited practical impact on U.N. operations.
About 25 U.S. military observers and troops serve in U.N. peacekeeping missions, a small fraction of the more than 50,000 U.N. peacekeepers employed in more than 15 missions worldwide. More than 400 police officers, employed under a contract with a U.S. security company, also serve in U.N. missions, primarily in Liberia and Kosovo.
Experts on the court said the decision to target the U.N. mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea was peculiar because neither country has ratified the 1998 treaty establishing the international criminal court. The court has jurisdiction only over crimes committed in countries that have ratified the treaty or over individuals from countries that have ratified the treaty.
"U.S. servicemen participating in these missions were not at risk of prosecution," said Richard Dicker, an expert on the court at the New York-based advocacy group, Human Rights Watch. "This seems to be a petulant response to the Bush administration's failure to ram through the Security Council a resolution exempting Americans from prosecution by the court."