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2003-03-08 20:03:26

U.S. Ambassador Faces Amnesty International Criticisms

US says Bahamas must sign impunity agreement not to surrender U.S. nationals to the new International Criminal Court, or military assistance will be pulled.

U.S. Ambassador J. Richard Blankenship, who has been blasted in recent weeks by various observers for comments he made on a number of issues, is now facing criticisms from the international human rights group, Amnesty International.

Mr. Blankenship warned recently that if the Bahamas did not sign an impunity agreement not to surrender U.S. nationals to the new International Criminal Court, the United States might withdraw military assistance.

The International Court, which is expected to be operational in the next several months, is designed to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes of war.

While the United States is pushing for its citizens to be exempt from having to face the court, Amnesty says no one should have impunity from the worst crimes known to humanity.

In a release Thursday, Amnesty International representative in the Bahamas R. E. Barnes said the request being made by the United States is not limited to the Bahamas.

Worldwide, US Ambassadors are conducting similar initiatives in order to obtain as many impunity agreements as they possibly can, Mr. Barnes said in his statement.

"The results of the more than six month old campaign illustrates that most states are refusing to do so and in most cases, only those most susceptible to US pressure, have signed," according to Mr. Barnes.

Ambassador Blankenship was quoted as saying in an interview on a ZNS talk show with Steve McKinney, "If the Royal Bahamas Defense Force were out on patrol one night, and if they were to inadvertently run over a Haitian sloop and unfortunately many drown and are killed, do you know that under the International Court those Defense Force men can be extradited to the Hague to stand trial?"

But Mr. Barnes insisted that there is no basis for this comment. He pointed out that the International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction over the intentional crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, not negligence. "Such an event could not be a war crime as there is no armed conflict between Haiti and the Bahamas," Mr. Barnes said.

Additionally, he said the Bahamas and all CARICOM states should carefully consider two other issues: Firstly, how realistic is it that the United States would carry out its threat to withdraw military assistance?

"Many believe that this is a hollow threat as the USA, like other states, provide military assistance because it is in their national interest to do so," he said. "Indeed, almost 90 percent of all UN member states have refused even to sign such an agreement and not a single state has ratified such an agreement, but the USA has not cut off military or economic assistance to any state.

"Secondly, at the moment, the issue of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes may seem distant from the day-to-day concerns of the Caribbean people, however, in 2009, a special conference will take place to consider whether to add new crimes to the jurisdiction of the Court, including drug-trafficking.

Would Caribbean states want to sign agreements providing impunity for U.S. nationals accused of drug trafficking in their countries?"

Amnesty International has said it was sending petitions, with nearly 85,000 signatures to governments around the world, asking them not to enter into impunity agreements with the United States.

Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell told the Bahama Journal Thursday that the government is withholding any decision on the United States' request until after a CARICOM foreign ministers' meeting in St. Vincent in May.

He indicated that the decision the Bahamas takes would probably be in line with that of CARICOM.

By Candia Dames, The Bahama Journal

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