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2003-01-31 17:29:19

Bahamas Urged To Oppose U.S. Impunity Agreement

Amnesty International is urging Bahamian authorities to turn down the request by the US

Although it is being pressured to do so, The Bahamas has not signed an impunity agreement with the United States that would allow American military personnel and citizens to escape the clutches of the International Criminal Court.

Now, a heightened campaign by the human rights watch group Amnesty International is urging Bahamian authorities to turn down the request by the United States.

Amnesty is sending petitions, with nearly 85,000 signatures, to governments around the world, asking them not to enter into impunity agreements with the United States.

Under the pact, Americans would not be turned over to the international court.

"No one should have impunity from the worst crimes known to humanity," Amnesty International said.

The International Criminal Court, which is expected to be operational in the next several months, is designed to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes of war.

Although he said he was not aware of a petition from Amnesty International, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told the Bahama Journal that the Cabinet is still in preliminary discussions on the United States' request.

"As far as we can tell no country has signed the agreement [with the U.S.] and that is our preliminary advice and this has been communicated to the U.S.," Minister Mitchell said. "The Cabinet of the Bahamas will make its decision in due course."

Recently, the United States Ambassador to the Bahamas James Richard Blankenship was quoted in one of the morning dailies appealing to the government to endorse the agreement with the Unite States, suggesting that if it did not do so then assistance to law enforcement agencies could be withdrawn "We have taken the view that there is a particular way to conduct diplomatic relations with the United States and it is not by grand standing in the press," the Foreign Affairs Minister said.

The threat of withdrawing military and other assistance is a tactic that Amnesty has frowned upon and one that it says is being used by the United States in many cases.

"U.S. fears that the International Criminal Court will be used to bring politically motivated prosecutions against U.S. nationals are unfounded," Amnesty said. "The International Criminal Courts statute contains substantive safeguards and fair trials guarantees to ensure that such situations would not arise."

Additionally, there is a school of thought that under such agreements with the U.S., states would violate their obligations under international law to bring those accused of the most serious crimes to justice.

Opposing forces are lobby for and against the International Criminal Court. The Statute that outlined the creation of the court was adopted at an international conference in Rome on July 17, 1996. One hundred and twenty countries voted to adopt the treaty, seven countries, including Iraq, China and the United States voted against it and 21 abstained.

Another group, the Human Rights Watch, reasoned that such impunity agreements, like the one that the U.S. is pushing, violate the Rome Statute and should be opposed.

According to Amnesty, the U.S. does not have legislation making all the crimes in the Rome Statute crimes under U.S. law, pointing out that the agreements do not include any commitment from the U.S. to investigate and prosecute these crimes or extradite suspects to other states willing to do so.

The election for the 18 judges of the International Criminal Court is set to take place on February 6 and 7.

By Tameka Lundy, The Bahama Journal

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