NEW YORK - The Bush administration's contempt for international
rules of war - laid down by the Geneva Conventions - was best exemplified
by a joke currently circulating in Washington.
to defend the behaviour of US troops, one official had jokingly
remarked: "Why should we conform to the Geneva Conventions.
We are not in Switzerland. We are in Iraq."
high-powered team of lawyers from the Bush administration had concluded
as early as March last year that the US was not bound by any international
treaty prohibiting torture.
memo, which hit the front pages of American newspapers last week,
said the US military would be immune from domestic and international
prohibitions against torture - particularly if troops were taking
orders from their superiors.
US has also refused to be a party to the Rome Statute creating an
International Criminal Court (ICC), which is mandated to punish
those accused of war crimes and genocide.
in July 2000, the US succeeded in strong-arming the UN Security
Council to obtain immunity to US peacekeepers, if and when they
serve in UN peacekeeping operations overseas. The resolution was
renewed last year and remains valid until the end of June. So the
Bush administration has now started lobbying the Security Council
once again to seek a second renewal of the resolution, which is
due to come up for a vote before July 1.
the recent revelations from Abu Ghraib prison (in Baghdad),"
says Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch (HRW), "the US government
has picked one hell of a moment to ask for special treatment on
Security Council should not grant special favours to any country,
including the United States," said Dicker, director of the
International Justice programme at HRW.
its political and economic clout, the Bush administration is expected
to pressure the Council for adoption of the new resolution. Last
year, three states, namely France, Germany and Syria, abstained
on the resolution. This year, that number is expected to grow.
France and China may express their reservations or abstain on the
vote, it is very unlikely that the resolution will be vetoed out
of the Council. If it doesn't get vetoed, it only proves the political
power that could, and is, being wielded by the world's only superpower.
campaign for special treatment of US soldiers also comes at a time
when even the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has complained
about the killings of civilians in Iraq.
torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners are being clearly viewed
as not only a violation of the Geneva Conventions but also possible
war crimes. The military atrocities committed by US soldiers warrant
war crimes prosecutions, according to constitutional lawyers. The
Clinton administration signed the Rome Statute in December 2000.
But in an unprecedented reversal, the Bush administration said it
has no intention of ratifying the ICC treaty releasing the US from
the obligation of not doing anything contrary to the object and
purposes of the Statute.
this, the US has also concluded a series of bilateral treaties,
including with parties to the ICC, obliging them not to hand over
US personnel to the world court.
Lanka is one of some 75 countries pressured by the US to sign these
bilateral treaties last year. In doing so, Sri Lanka has signed
off on international law when we may ourselves need its protection.
according to the UN treaty section website, none of the bilaterals
have been registered with the world body. "It is a mandatory
obligation imposed on all member states by the UN Charter that all
treaties and agreements concluded by them be registered," says
Palitha Kohona, head of the UN Treaty Section.
are no exceptions to this requirement envisaged under the Charter,
he said, because article 102 seeks to ensure transparency with regard
to all legally binding agreements concluded by member states.
fact that none has been registered so far seems to give rise to
interesting legal implications. One speculation, according to a
UN lawyer, is that the bilateral compacts are not being registered
because the parties that signed with Washington do not consider
them to be treaties. If that were the case, there would be doubts
about their legally binding nature and their enforceability.
course a superpower could enforce bilateral obligations other than
through legally available means. The tendency to resort to extra-legal
means is something that the international community should be concerned
with," he added.