Paris, Berlin hold back as UN exempts peacekeepers from prosecution
By Mark Turner at the United Nations
Published: June 13 2003 5:00 | Last Updated: June 13 2003 5:00

Defying US pressure, France, Germany and Syria yesterday abstained from voting on a Security Council resolution exempting American and other UN peacekeepers from prosecution by the International Criminal Court, placing new strains on efforts to restore unity after the Iraq con-flict.

But despite deep concerns expressed by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, and many other countries during an open debate, the measure was adopted with 12 votes in favour and none against.

The vote extends for 12 months the controversial exemption, first agreed last year after the US threatened to veto peacekeeping missions.

But human rights activists said the abstentions, a "polite no" according to one diplomat, undermined last year's consensus and set a new trend of opposition.

Those in favour included the UK, Spain and Bulgaria, which have ratified the court's statute, although Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, stressed that the exemption was an exceptional measure and not subject to automatic renewal.

Spain also said that regular renewal should not be taken for granted.

In asurprisingly sharp statement, Mr Annan said the resolution was unnecessary, and argued that Article 16 of the international court's statute, which allows the Security Council to halt an investigation or prosecution, "was not intended to cover such a sweeping request".

Were the rollover to become routine, he added, "I fear the world would interpret it as meaning this Council wished to claim absolute and permanent immunity for people serving in the operations it authorises. [That] would undermine not only the authority of the ICC but also the authority of this Council, and the legitimacy of United Nations peacekeeping."

James Cunningham, deputy US ambassador, insisted the move did not "elevate an entire category of people above the law: the ICC is not the law".

But Michel Duclos, deputy French ambassador, said renewal risked bestowing an air of permanence to the exemption, "which cannot but weaken the court and damage its authority".

Germany's Gunter Pleuger said the court was not an impediment to peacekeeping, but a safeguard.