UN gives Bush war crime plan as electoral sop

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THE UN Security Council last night adopted a toothless war crimes resolution on the former Yugoslavia under pressure from a Bush administration anxious to court US public opinion ahead of the presidential elections, where President Bush wants to cut a figure as a driving force in foreign policy.

Other resolutions, adopted to suit Washington's agenda include the seizure of Iraqi oil assets last week, and the adoption of a 'no fly' zone over Bosnia, after weeks of dithering and indecision.

The Bush administration appears to be pushing the Council to take action, however ineffectual, rather than be attacked by the presidential front-runner for doing nothing on issues like Bosnia and Iraq. After backing away from a proposal for a commission leading to a Nuremberg-style tribunal of war criminals, the Western permanent members of the Council - the US, Britain and France - called instead for the UN merely to 'collate substantiated information,' of violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Like the Second World War UN files on those, including Kurt Waldheim, the UN's former secretary-general, who were suspected of Nazi collaboration, the proposed war crime files seem destined to gather dust in the archives. 'What we've been calling for is a war crimes commission to be established at the highest level, that is the Security Council,' said Jeri Labor of the human rights group Helsinki Watch, 'not a weak commission answering only to the Secretary-General.'

'This is just a fact-finding exercise by another name,' said a UN diplomat. 'It is not going to lead to a tribunal of any kind and there is no legal machinery to take action against those who are in gross violation of the Geneva conventions. It is another example of the Council doing something just because it seems desirable to Washington.'

When the US first floated its proposal for a war crimes resolution last week, it stated that 'the commission would be similar to the 1943 war crimes commission which led to the Nuremberg trials.' Security Council action was 'a first necessary step' before moving ahead with prosecutions. When the initiative was put to the other permanent members for review, Britain and France objected, saying that the Council was not the appropriate venue for a war crimes commission. London and Paris argued that the Council should not be saddled with such a tricky legal question as this.

(Photograph omitted)