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U.S. Cuts Military Aid to Backers of International Court

Under the provisions of an anti-terror law, the United States is cutting military aid to countries that back the International Criminal Court and are unwilling to grant immunity to Americans.

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Countries that support the International Criminal Court are again being targeted by Washington.

Making good on its pledge to penalize countries that have signed up for the International Criminal Court but have failed to sign bilateral agreements giving Americans immunity, the United States said Tuesday it would cut military aid and training to at least 35 countries next year.

Among the countries hit by the decision are six eastern European states slated to join NATO next year including Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia. All have refused to support U.S. demands that American citizens be given immunity from the court.

The deadline for concluding bilateral agreements with the U.S. ran out on Tuesday. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. would cut aid to the countries in an effort to force them into agreements.

"We're not attempting to infringe upon the rights of countries that have decided to sign and implement the treaty involving the International Criminal Court and we ask that our right and our decision, our sovereignty in deciding not to be a party to that treaty, is similarly respected," Boucher told journalists, explaining the Bush administration's position.

Millions in cuts

The State Department said the cuts in military aid would not affect the countries until the next U.S. budget goes into effect in September. For the months between September and December, a total of $47.6 million is expected to be withheld. Normally, the monies are used for weapons and equipment purchases, education and training.

The American Servicemembers' Protection Act recently passed by Congress requires that military aid be cut to all countries that refuse to support the immunity of Americans from prosecution by the new court. However, the State Department said it would not cut aid to current NATO members and other close U.S. allies. U.S. President George W. Bush also issued waivers for 22 other countries that had signed but not yet ratified agreements.

To date, 50 countries have signed bilateral agreements with the U.S. that promise not to extradite Americans if they are indicted by the International Criminal Court.

"Mean spirited"

Human rights organizations have criticized the tactics used by the Bush administration to secure bilateral agreements.

"U.S. ambassadors have been acting like schoolyard bullies," said Richard Dicker, director of the international justice program at Human Rights Watch. "The U.S. campaign has not succeeded in undermining global support for the court. But it has succeeded in making the U.S. government look foolish and mean-spirited."

Despite heavy opposition from the United States, at least 90 nations have signed up to become members of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, The Netherlands, which was established to prosecute war crimes and other atrocities as a successor organization to the United Nations war crimes tribunals. The court began its work in earnest in this spring.

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