- The United States has implemented its threat to suspend its military aid to Benin as a consequence of Benin's unwillingness to sign an "impunity agreement". Countries not willing to bar US citizens committing crimes against humanity from being sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) will see cuts in US funds.
The US State Department yesterday confirmed it was to suspend the military aid to "35 or 36 countries" not willing to grant impunity to US war crimes suspects, according to its spokesman, Richard Boucher. Although Mr Boucher didn't make the countries' list public, it today became clear that Benin is one of the first countries to see its military aid suspended.
This was confirmed today by the Beninese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rogatien Biaou. Mr Biaou told the press in Cotonou that his government had rejected "an accord submitted" by the US. Beninese authorities were however still considering such an option, Mr Biaou said.
Although Benin was among the countries to face US sanctions because it had not signed the "impunity agreement" before the 1 July deadline given by the US, Minister Biaou said the bilateral relationship between the US and Benin remained "excellent".
The American military aid to Benin is estimated to sum up to around US$ 5 million annually, mostly going to the maintenance and equipment of the regular armed forces of Benin. This constitutes a significant part of the Beninese military budget, estimated to be at US$ 27 million annually.
In Washington yesterday, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that "some 35" countries receiving US military aid and not being NATO partners had not signed "Article 98 agreements," as the agreements - called "impunity agreements" by human rights groups - are called by the US administration.
Mr Boucher promised the US government would "keep pressing countries to sign Article 98 agreements with us." But the State Department's hope was "to continue to work with governments to secure and ratify Article 98 agreements that protect American service members from arbitrary or political prosecution by the International Court."
The US military aid suspension, in addition to Benin, also is said to affect US allies like Brazil, Colombia and South Africa, the Baltic states as well as countries soon to join the NATO, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Other African countries believed to see their military aid suspended include the Central African Republic, Malawi, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Tanzania and Zambia.
The US provides more than US$ 4 billion a year in foreign military assistance. According to Mr Boucher, the 35 countries that may see their aid suspended receive a total aid of US$ 47.6 million in the 2003 fiscal year.
Around 50 countries have signed an "impunity agreement" with the US, most of them being poor, developing countries. Today it was also known that Senegal had signed such a deal with the US.
The human rights group Amnesty International strongly has protested the signing of these "illegal impunity agreements" because they violate governments' duties to cooperate with the International Criminal Court and the obligations of all states "to ensure that the people responsible for these crimes, as the most serious crimes under international law, are brought to justice."
- In fact, in many cases US courts will not be able to do so as US law does not include many of the crimes under international law as defined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, according to Amnesty.
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