by DEBKAfile

1 July 2002


The international war crimes court was born in The Hague Monday, July 1 amid serious challenges to its authority. A few hours earlier, Sunday June 30, the United States announced its withdrawal from the international peacekeeping force in Bosnia unless the UN Security Council could, within 72 hours, produce safeguards for the immunity of US troops from prosecution.

Three Security Council permanent members, the United States, Russia and China, as well as Israel, are among the half of the 130 UN members states who have declined to ratify their signatures on the 1998 Rome Statute that established the court. They fear its judgments will be politically tainted. They also question the right of European nations to judge the rest of the world.

The Europeans, led by Britain and France, say they will not let the Bush administration undermine what they view as a historic advance in international justice and human rights. International human rights groups are accusing the United States of tactics designed to undermine the world’s first permanent tribunal for prosecuting war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity.

Under the covenant, any individual may be prosecuted on the basis of a complaint from a government or the UN Security Council by a court whose 18 judges and chief prosecutor are still unknown.

Israel withdrew its signature because it claimed it had been treated unfairly from the outset by a tribunal whose charter addresses a wide range of war crimes, but not terrorism. On the other hand, the establishment of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza is judged a priori a war crime. Israel’s non-membership of the international court mitigates the threat of arbitrary prosecution facing top-level Israeli government officials, army personnel and civilians, but does not altogether remove it.

In endorsing the court four years ago, former President Bill Clinton, his secretary of state Madeleine Albright and national security adviser, Samuel Berger, believed the new tribunal would be useful for advancing the administration’s two prime foreign policy objectives:

1. Promoting the national aspirations of ethnic Muslims in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia, at the expense of the Serbs. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, the Clinton administration secretly funneled US arms, funds - as well as allowing Americans of Albanian decent to join Muslim ranks - to support the establishment of three independent Muslim republics in the heart of Europe centering on Albania. The Milosevic regime was to be discredited and smashed and Serbia, then considered the sharp edge of Russian and Chinese influence in the Balkans, reduced to a strategic nonentity hemmed in by four strong Muslim states

2. The Balkan precedent was to have provided leverage against the Israeli political camp opposed to a Palestinian state and acted as an inhibitor for Israeli military operations against the Palestinians. Behind this thinking was the assumption that holding the IDF on a tight leash would lend Israeli policy-makers the freedom to make profound and sweeping concessions to the Palestinians.
Earlier this year, during a visit to Tel Aviv, Clinton declared wonderingly that he could not understand why Muslims hate America, when he, an American president, sent troops to fight for equal rights and better living standards for the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo.

Eager to meet Clinton’s expectations, the Israeli prime minister of the day, Ehud Barak, signed on to the Rome Covenant in December 2000, two months after the outbreak of the Palestinian armed confrontation. He did not heed attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein’s warnings that he was making Israeli officers and men fighting Palestinian terrorists and Israelis living on lands not included in the 1947 UN partition resolution liable to prosecution.

Article 8, Clause viii) of the Rome Statute defines as a War Crime “The transfer directly or indirectly by the Occupying Power of part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside their territories.”

Since the new court is not subject to a statute of limitations, Tel Aviv university (built over a pre-1948 Arab village), no less than the Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem’s French Hill, could be charged as war criminals.

There are enough similar applications in other parts of the world to awaken a whole pack of sleeping dogs.

The great advocate of the International War Crimes Court is the European Union’s external affairs executive Javier Solana. This cause fits in with his ardent sponsorship of Yasser Arafat’s demand to “internationalize” his dispute with Israel, echoed by the peace activists of Israeli’s Labor party, Shimon Peres, Yossi Sarid, Yossi Beilin, Haim Ramon. If Arafat’s wish had been granted, international “peacekeepers” would have been in the country and theoretically, according to the Bosnian precedent, in a position to detain most of Israel’s generals, its military personnel and many of its civilians as “war criminals”.

Sunday, June 30, the Sharon government, sheltering behind America’s broad back, heeded the advice of attorney general Rubinstein this time and recalled Barak’s signature.

In any case, the 9/11 terrorist atrocities and subsequent US anti-terror offensives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia - and the coming strike against Iraq and possible the Hizballah in Lebanon - make an international war crimes court that fails to recognize terrorism as such outdated and irrelevant. It is not surprising that Russia and China, like the US, refuse to join.
Unlike president Clinton, George W. Bush will not tolerate international control over America’s military actions and will never subject US military peacekeepers, mandated for their mission by the world body, to an international crimes court.

By applying to its veto power to block the extension of the Bosnia peacekeeping force, the United States is leaving the conflict in the hands of the Europeans and their new Hague court. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, expecting the European peacekeepers to cope unaided is the recipe for a fresh flare-up of Serb-Croat hostilities against Bosnian Muslims.

Last week, America and Europe locked horns at the G-8 summit over whether Yasser Arafat was fit to lead the Palestinian people. The US-EU confrontation over the international war crimes court and the peacekeeping force in Bosnia is the second transatlantic set-to in as many weeks. Both sides seem to be digging hard into their positions, a manifestation that will no doubt color the coming events in the Middle East."