July 18, 2003

Botswana and Zambia sign agreements with US on war criminals

Botswana and Zambia both have signed bilateral agreements with the United States not to extradite US citizens accused of war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Amid local controversy over the agreement, Botswana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said the decision was based on Botswana's national interest. It maintained that Botswana and the United States "enjoy excellent relations" which had brought many "tangible benefits to the people of Botswana". "At the end of the day, our interests dictated that we should sign this agreement with the United States, which is what we have done," Ernest Mpofu, permanent secretary in the ministry of foreign affairs, said.

The agreement, concluded on 30 June, means that Botswana cannot extradite a US citizen to a third country for the purpose of appearing before an international tribunal without the express permission of the United States. The agreement is to be reviewed on an annual basis.

The ICC was established in 2002 to prosecute citizens of any nation who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, and is modelled after the war crime tribunals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The Rome Statute, which created the ICC, was signed by Botswana and the then US President Bill Clinton in 2000. However, the administration of President George W. Bush nullified US membership of the ICC, partly over concerns of politically motivated action against US military personnel, and has pushed other countries to sign bilateral treaties indemnifying US citizens from being handed over to the court for prosecution.

US military aid to Botswana was at stake if Gaborone did not sign the bilateral agreement. Neighbouring South Africa, which signed the ICC protocols but not the indemnity accord, has reportedly lost around US $7 million in military assistance. "We fear that the US president may have also tied money for important humanitarian programmes, especially HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, to his political goals, such as undermining the International Criminal Court," said Alice Mogwe, director of Ditshwanelo - the Botswana Centre of Human Rights. Ditshwanelo reminded President Festus Mogae that under the government's development blueprint, known as Vision 2016, it has stressed its commitment to transparency.

A few days later, it was reported that Zambia already in July had signed a similar agreement with the United States. Zambia's decision to sign an "Article 98" exemption agreement under the Rome statute setting up the ICC means that US military aid can now be resumed. Zambia was among 35 countries punished by a US domestic law banning US military assistance to those who refused to conclude the treaty. - African countries that have reportedly not accepted an Article 98 agreement, or received waivers from the White House, are: Benin, Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, and Tanzania. (IRIN)

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