US plays aid card to fix war crimes exemption
Ian Traynor in Zagreb
Thursday June 12, 2003
The US is turning up the heat on the countries of the Balkans and eastern Europe to secure war crimes immunity deals for Americans and exemptions from the year-old international criminal court.
In an exercise in brute diplomacy which is causing more acute friction with the European Union following the rows over Iraq, the US administration is threatening to cut off tens of millions of dollars in aid to the countries of the Balkans unless they reach bilateral agreements with the US on the ICC by the end of this month.
The American campaign, which is having mixed results, is creating bitterness and cynicism in the countries being intimidated, particularly in the successor states of former Yugoslavia which perpetrated and suffered the worst war crimes seen in Europe since the Nazis. They are all under intense international pressure, not least from the Americans, to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia in the Hague.
"Blatant hypocrisy," said Human Rights Watch in New York on Tuesday of the US policy towards former Yugoslavia.
Threatened with the loss of $73m (£44m) in US aid, Bosnia signed the exemption deal last week just as Slovenia rejected American pressure and cut off negotiations.
Of all the peoples of former Yugoslavia, the Bosnians suffered the most grievously in the wars of the 1990s, from the siege of Sarajevo to the slaughter of Srebrenica.
The Bosnians signed reluctantly, feeling they had no choice. Former Yugoslavia is particularly central to the US campaign to exempt Americans from the scope of the ICC because there are US troops in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Washington is vehemently opposed to the permanent international criminal court, arguing that US soldiers, officials and citizens will be targeted for political reasons, an argument dismissed by the court's supporters, who point out that safeguards have been built into the rules governing the court's operations.
Under President Bill Clinton, Washington signed the treaty establishing the court. But the US did not ratify the treaty and Mr Bush rescinded Mr Clinton's signature.
While the Slovenes have said no to the Americans, probably forfeiting $4m in US aid, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia are now being pressed to join the 39 other countries worldwide with which Washington has sealed bilateral pacts granting Americans immunity from war crimes.
"While the United States rightly insists that the former Yugoslav republics must fully cooperate with the [Hague tribunal], it is turning the screws on the very same states not to cooperate with the ICC," said Human Rights Watch.
Croatia is sitting on the fence, refusing to accept what the prime minister, Ivica Racan, dubbed "an ultimatum", but still hoping to reach a compromise with the US. The American ambassador in Zagreb published a letter in the Zagreb press last week warning that Croatia would lose $19m in US military aid if it did not capitulate by July 1.
In Serbia, too, where the issue of war crimes is explo sive, the US pressure is being attacked as a ruthless display of double standards.
The EU has sent letters to all the countries in the region advising them to resist the US demands and indicating that surrender will harm their ambitions of joining the EU.
Regional leaders are waiting to see what kind of offers or promises this month's EU summit in Greece makes to the region before deciding on their stance towards the ICC. One idea being floated is that the EU could make up the lost US aid money in return for Balkan refusal to toe the American line.
Although the eight east European countries joining the EU next year are expected to follow the Brussels policy and reject the US demands, the Poles in particular are also being pressed to reach an immunity deal with Washington.
Sources in Warsaw say that the US state department has made several requests in recent weeks for a deal by July 1. Poland is the biggest American ally in the region but has not yielded to the US requests.