UNITED NATIONS: Washington is asking that if its peacekeepers are sent to Liberia they be exempted from prosecution for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The clause, included in a draft US resolution proposed in the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, was condemned by the Coalition for the ICC, an umbrella group that worked to establish the court earlier this year.

“Insisting that peacekeeping forces should have immunity from international law and crimes as a condition to enforce international law is grotesque and irresponsible,” said William R. Pace, convener of the Coalition, Thursday.

“What is essential is to authorise international forces to enforce the ceasefire and to begin to save the lives of civilians and allow life to be breathed into a dying nation,” he told reporters.

Pace said that many members of the group believe that the reign of violence and the criminal victimisation of civilian populations in Liberia deserved international community protection thousands of lives ago.

Coalition members believe that government and rebel military forces have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Liberia in contravention of the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute of the ICC and other international law, he added.

“It is therefore particularly disturbing that the proposed Security Council resolution from the United States government authorising a multi-national force ... includes a provision that would also violate these treaties and international laws,” Pace said. The proposed UN force, which is expected to be approved by the 15-member Security Council next week, is not likely to move into Liberia until the end of August or early September, primarily due to logistical reasons.

Since the deployment will be delayed, the Security Council is expected to simultaneously approve the creation of a regional peacekeeping force made up of troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters on Thursday that the proposed US clause on war crimes by peacekeepers has never been included in UN peacekeeping resolutions.

“Besides, my own view, is that the kind of crimes that we are talking about have never occurred with UN peacekeepers — they have never been anywhere near there,” said Annan.

While Washington has been roundly condemned for not moving troops into the West African nation sooner, non-government organisations (NGOs) have criticised its draft resolution for various reasons. Nicola Reindorp, Oxfam’s UN representative, said Thursday the current draft risks being “fatally flawed”.

“If Liberia’s civilians are to be effectively protected, the draft resolution must be immediately amended.”

Reindorp said that simply providing peacekeepers with a mandate to use force — while critically important — would mean little without clear and specific parameters on how that force should be applied.

“Peacekeeping missions risk failure when commanders do not have explicit Security Council directions about the steps they must take to adequately protect civilians,” she said. “The people of Liberia can’t afford a vague mandate that lacks any guideposts for measuring success.”

Despite a public plea by Annan that the peacekeeping force in Liberia be led by the United States, US President George W. Bush has indicated he will provide only logistical and financial support for such a UN mission.

“Any commitments we make would be limited in size and limited in tenure,” Bush told reporters in mid-July.

The Washington-based Heritage Foundation, which has close political and ideological ties to the White House, warned the Bush administration last week to keep away from Liberia.

“US troops, who are trained and equipped to fight and win wars, don’t make good peacekeepers,” wrote Heritage analyst Jack Spencer.

He said that a Liberian mission “could drain hundreds of millions of dollars from the defence budget, and jeopardise other important national security requirements”.

Spencer described peacekeeping operations as “quagmires that cost more than expected, especially when measured in American blood, and usually achieve very little in the long run”.

The 1,500-strong ECOWAS contingent, led by Nigeria, is hampered by financial and logistical problems even before it can get off the ground. Washington, which is spending about 3.9 billion dollars every month in its military occupation of Iraq, has offered only 10 million dollars to the force, which will also include troops from Senegal, Mali and Ghana. —Dawn/InterPress News Service.