UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council on Thursday approved another one-year exemption for American peacekeepers from prosecution by the new international war crimes tribunal.
France, Germany and Syria abstained, apparently ignoring a U.S. appeal not to further strain the bitter trans-Atlantic division over the war against Iraq.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke out strongly against any attempt to try to make the exemption permanent - which the United States initially sought. He warned that this would not only undermine the International Criminal Court but the authority of the U.N. Security Council "and the legitimacy of United Nations peacekeeping."
The resolution adopted by a vote of 12-0 with the three abstentions, authorizes a yearlong exemption from arrest or trial for peacekeepers from the United States and other countries that have not ratified the Rome treaty establishing the court.
France and Germany, both members of the European Union, were in the forefront of opposition to the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Last week, the United States warned the EU that its criticism over the exemption request was putting more strains on trans-Atlantic relations.
But during an open Security Council debate before the vote, Greece's U.N. ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, speaking on behalf of the 15-nation bloc, put the United States on notice that "automatic renewal would be undermining to the letter and the spirit of the Rome Treaty and its fundamental purpose."
All 15 EU nations are among the 90 countries that are party to the court, which will prosecute cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed after July 1, 2002. The court will step in only when countries are unwilling or unable to dispense justice themselves.
The court got another boost Wednesday when China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Yingfan said his country was "positively considering" ratifying the Rome Treaty. Beijing was one of seven countries that voted against the Rome statute but in the last four years has taken a more positive attitude.
"China's change reflects a growing support worldwide for the ICC and international justice," said William Pace, who heads the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, which represents more than 1,000 organizations supporting the tribunal.