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The United States did it utmost to persuade Ghana to ratify an agreement
which seeks to prevent American soldiers from being tried
by the International Criminal Court (ICC)
Relations have somewhat changed between Ghana and «big brother» Ghana in recent months. Hectic debates have been taking place in the corridors of power and among citizens regarding US insistence that Ghana ratifies the non-surrender agreement she signed with her. The US government gave Ghana up to 1 November 2003 to ratify its Bilateral Non-Surrender Agreement (BNSA), or risk being cut off from US military assistance. Ghana gets about $4 million in military aid from the USA annually.
Under the BNSA, the Ghanaian government undertakes not to surrender American citizens suspected or accused of war crimes, to the ICC at The Hague for prosecution. It effectively grants US citizens immunity from ICC jurisdiction.
The USA fears the ICC could become a forum for politically motivated prosecutions of US citizens, especially soldiers deployed abroad, and has been on a worldwide campaign to sign bilateral immunity deals with many countries. She is doing so by availing herself of Article 98 of the Rome statute establishing the ICC, which provides a safeguard that suspects may not be surrendered to the ICC without the consent of their countries of origin.
To strengthen her position on the issue, in 2001 the US Congress passed the American Service Members Protection Act, introducing a «sanctions regime» compelling the US Administration to suspend all forms of military assistance to countries refusing or failing to sign the agreement. The US has made it clear that any country failing to ratify the agreement will incur sanctions — specifically, the withdrawal of military assistance.
Now that Ghana has ratified the agreement, the USA has lifted military aid sanctions. The agreement has, however, left a nasty taste. People talks about «betrayal,» and the whole issue of Ghana’s sovereignty has become a subject for debate. Many people believe the agreement is a sell-out and an affront to the dignity and respect of all Ghanaians.
Why did Ghana accede?
Government officials explaining the official stance, believe two views emerged. The first emphasised the need to sign and ratify the agreement, because the country’s national interest, especially its friendship and relations with the USA, makes it prudent for her to go along with the agreement. The second is that Ghana already has jurisdiction over all crimes committed on her soil, and any person or persons found to have committed an offence contained in the Rome statute, could be tried by local courts. This, they explained, is an indication that the agreement does not in any way infringe upon the country’s sovereignty.
But many Ghanaians are not convinced. Indeed, Members of Parliament both from the governing party and the Opposition were not «comfortable» with the American demands, but as generally expected, they voted 101 votes to 53 in favour of the agreement. Some Parliamentarians vehemently protested against the agreement, saying, it violated the country’s sovereignty and that the country should not cheapen itself «for peanuts».
Most Ghanaians feel it was wrong for Ghana to have agreed to the US demands, since the US was clearly acting against international law. But it seems it was the prospect of losing military assistance and the goodwill of the US which drove Ghana to ratify the agreement. In the arguments made before the ratification, the Defence Minister, Dr Kwame Addo-Kufuor was upbeat that «Ghana stands to benefit a lot if she were to agree to the US terms.»
The general consensus prevailing in this country of 20 million people is that Ghanaians have sold themselves cheaply and have dishonoured and damaged themselves by ratifying the «indemnity clauses». Dr. Baffuor Agyeman-Duah, Associate Executive Director of the Centre for Democratic Development (a Ghanaian socio-political think-tank), is of the view that the USA bullied Ghana into ratifying the agreement. «I think that it is repugnant for the US government to be bullying small and weak countries into ratifying the non-surrender treaty», he says. – But in truth, isn’t it a question of where national interests lie?
- Sam Sarpong, Ghana, November 2003 — © Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment
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