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UN Security Council approves resolution to protect UN staff

( 2003-08-27 10:37) (Agencies)

The Security Council on Tuesday voted unanimously for ways to improve protection for U.N. staff and other aid workers after the United States insisted members drop a reference to the International Criminal Court it opposes.

Staff of the UN Office in Geneva lay flowers at the entrance of the UN HQ there Aug 26, 2003, in memory of UN Special envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello and other UN staff members killed in Baghdad on August 19.   [Reuters]
The Mexican-drafted resolution, co-sponsored by France, Germany, Russia, Bulgaria and Syria, was first circulated in April and then taken out of mothballs after the bombing of the U.N. headquarters on Aug. 19 that killed 23 people and wounded many others.

It urges nations to prosecute perpetrators of crimes against U.N. workers and those from other relief or nongovernmental organizations engaged in humanitarian efforts. It says states should adopt laws ensuring that violence against humanitarian workers is treated as a war crime.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the council that the "vicious attack" on U.N. headquarters shows what to expect "if we allow the impression to continue gaining ground that international workers are a soft and cost-free target."

"Impunity for those who commit such unpardonable crimes cannot stand." Annan said. "There must be action," through prosecution by states of those responsible for such crimes.

While there was little disagreement on the purpose of the resolution, a mention in the document of the new International Criminal Court drew objections from the Bush administration, which vehemently opposes the Netherlands-based tribunal.

Mexico and its allies dropped specific mention of the court, whose statutes spell out what a war crime is. But they then faced U.S. objections about defining war crimes, particularly if an aid worker is injured unintentionally.

At one point, Mexico and France rejected an amendment by Germany, a co-sponsor, that the United States had accepted. Mexico then rewrote a longer version.


Diplomats said underlying debates on the resolution was bitterness among some council members over U.S. positions on Iraq as well as on the International Criminal Court, with France and Mexico especially challenging the United States.

"The basic bottom line is that the resolution has to state in clear and unequivocal terms that an attack against humanitarian workers is a war crime," said Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, adding that he regretted the court had to be deleted from the document for the sake of unity.

Complimenting Aguilar Zinser on his effort, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the resolution "does not in itself create any new international legal obligations but rather urges concerned parties to implement their existing international legal obligations."

Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the resolution by telephone with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez in an effort to get changes.

With the Mexican initiative being portrayed as a direct challenge to the United States, Derbez told reporters: "I want to tell you that this has not generated any problem with the United States. That's a perception. You don't really know the conversations we are having."

The Bush administration opposes the new court, set up to try perpetrators of the world's most heinous crimes, as an infringement of U.S. sovereignty and a potential venue for frivolous lawsuits against U.S. officials abroad.

The 91 nations that have ratified the treaty argue the court has enough safeguards to protect nations against politically motivated prosecutions.

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