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Indo-US deal to protect peacekeepers

New Delhi, Dec. 26: India and the US today agreed not to hand over each other’s citizens to a third country for trial on human rights violation and other war crimes in a clear attempt to protect their soldiers deployed in different parts of the world as peacekeepers.

The move also indicates the two countries’ doubts over the fairness of the International Criminal Court (ICC). India is not a signatory to the international court. But the US, which had initially signed the ICC statute, withdrew within weeks fearing that its citizens would not get a fair trial.

However, the trigger for the deal seems to have been fears that some US soldiers deployed in Somalia as peacekeepers may be charged with human rights violation and war crimes. India, the biggest contributor to the UN peacekeeping efforts, feels that its soldiers, too, should be provided the protection the US is preparing to give to its own armed forces.

An agreement was signed this morning between foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal and US ambassador Robert Blackwill that neither country will hand over their nationals to a third country for trial on charges of human rights violation and war crimes.

The agreement stipulates that the two countries will not “knowingly facilitate, consent or cooperate with any third party or country for extradition, surrender or transfer of each other’s national to any international tribunal”.

The extradition of their national to a third country cannot take place without prior consent of the two sides. Such a request can only be considered if the two sides are otherwise obligated to do so by an international agreement to which they are parties.

Foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said: “As strong and vibrant democracies, both India and the US share concerns about possible conflicts between robust national judicial processes and international tribunals as also the impact of such tribunals on national sovereignty.”

Shortly after signing the agreement in Hyderabad House, Blackwill said: “India and the US share the strongest possible commitment to bringing to justice those who commit war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.” He quickly added: “We are concerned about the International Criminal Court treaty with respect to the adequacy of checks and balances, the impact of the treaty on national sovereignty and the potential for conflict with the UN charter.”

The agreement was described by both sides as “emblematic” of the strides that continue to be made in transforming Indo-US relations. The US ambassador said: “Both governments look forward to working in close cooperation on such significant issues in the future.”

In the past, India has had to defend several cases brought against it at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The latest was in 1999, when Pakistan dragged it to the court after the shooting of the Atlantis aircraft. But Delhi has so far not moved the court against any country.

One of India’s major grouses against the ICC was its failure to incorporate any provision to include cases relating to terrorism. “The ICC statute failed to provide flexibility in the nature of the jurisdiction that it defined for itself. It also blurred the distinction between customary law and treaty obligations in respect of the definition of internal conflict and crimes against humanity,” said Sarna.

But a main reason for today’s agreement was that India wants its peacekeepers doing duty in different parts of the world to feel confident that in an adverse situation, the government will rally behind them.

Missile talks

Proliferation of missile systems in many countries, including North Korea, will figure in talks on missile defence between Indian and US officials in Washington on January 15 and 16, official sources said today.

The Indian delegation will be led by Sheelkant Sharma, joint secretary, disarmament, in the external affairs ministry.

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