US signs secret immunity deals

The United States has secretly signed deals with at least five more countries, giving US citizens in those nations immunity from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to a State Department document obtained by AFP on Monday.

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    Diplomatic sources told AFP the agreements were concluded with Egypt, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Tunisia and the Seychelles, but were not announced.

    According to a State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs document, the five countries are also signatories of the so-called “Article 98” agreements.

    That bureau is in charge of negotiating the agreements on behalf of the US government.

    Washington strongly opposes the ICC, which has become a new source of division with Europe.

    The State Department, which has announced the conclusion of immunity pacts with 38 nations, declined to comment on the secret agreements. It admitted last week that it has not identified all the countries to have signed them.

    The existence of the five secret immunity deals came to light as Argentinean human rights lawyer, Luis Moreno Ocampo, was sworn in on Monday as the chief prosecutor for the tribunal.

    It is the world’s first permanent war crime courts, whose headquarters will be at The Hague.

    It was not clear why the five nations did not want the deals announced. Washington is expected to make the list public in some form after 1 July, the deadline for the ICC member countries to agree to the pacts, or lose US military aid.

    New tensions with EU?

    However the agreements are controversial particularly in Europe where the European Union, which supports the court, has campaigned to limit the scope of deals signed with Washington by EU members, or aspirants.

    Washington says the ICC could become a forum for politically motivated prosecutions of US citizens, including civilian military contractors and former officials.

    “We will continue our efforts to conclude these agreements with as many countries as possible,” the department told AFP last week.

    US officials said last week they have complained to the EU about its stance and warned it against thwarting the drive. The impact of the US warning to the EU remains unclear.

    Croatia and Slovenia, two European countries that aspire to EU membership, said last week they would not sign the deals partly for political reasons. Bosnia recently received a sharp warning when it agreed to one.

    Uganda became the 38th country to publicly sign Article 98 agreement with the United States last week.


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