WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military is pulling small numbers of troops out of two U.N. peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Africa because they are no longer exempt from prosecution in the International Criminal Court, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
A seven-member team will be removed from a U.N. mission assigned to keep peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia and two liaison officers will be removed from the world body’s mission in Kosovo, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told reporters.
“In these two particular cases it was determined … that the risk was not appropriate to our forces. And so they were withdrawn,” Di Rita said, adding all U.N. peacekeeping missions with a U.S. presence are under review.
A total of 94 countries to date have ratified a 1998 treaty creating the ICC, which is bitterly opposed by the United States. Until Wednesday, when it expired, American officials operated under an exemption preventing foreign prosecution for war crimes.
The court, based at The Hague in the Netherlands, is the first permanent world tribunal set up to prosecute individuals for war crimes, genocide and other gross human rights violations.
The United States charges that the ICC leaves U.S. military and civilian government officials open to frivolous and politically-inspired charges in countries that recognize the court.
MOST US TROOPS IN KOSOVO EXEMPT
Four Americans assigned to the African mission are scheduled to leave quickly while three others in supervisory positions will leave when they can be replaced, Di Rita told reporters.
Defense officials said that more than 2,000 other U.S. troops in the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo will not be affected because they are protected from criminal prosecution under a separate agreement.
Nations ratifying the treaty can turn their own citizens over to the court and those from other states for a crime committed on their soil. Neither Ethiopia nor Eritrea has ratified the treaty.
National courts have first priority. The ICC steps in only when a country is unwilling or unable to conduct a proper investigation, which would make it highly unlikely a U.S. citizen would appear before it.
The Bush administration on June 23 withdrew a resolution to renew the exemption after it became clear there were not enough votes in the U.N. Security Council for adoption. Members cited worldwide anger over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American forces and strong opposition from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
In the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, U.S. soldiers there could not be prosecuted in the court because neither Iraq nor the United States has ratified the treaty.