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US opposes ICC bid to make 'aggression' a crime under international law

The Obama administration has resisted efforts by the International Criminal Court to include 'aggression' as a crime, mainly because it could impact US military operations abroad.

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir waves to supporters in Khartoum April 26, 2010. Bashir won Sudan's first open elections in 24 years in a result that confirms in office the only sitting head of state wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Mohamed Nureldin/Reuters

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The United States under the Obama administration has developed an increasingly close working relationship with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But that growing engagement with a controversial institution of international law was unable to prevent the ICC from expanding the scope of its work to include the murky crime of “aggression,” a move the US had vehemently opposed.

At the 111-nation ICC’s first review conference that wrapped up last week in Kampala, Uganda, delegates decided to expand the international court’s purview to include the crime of aggression – a crime that only the US has successfully tried, in the post-World War II tribunals in Nuremburg and Tokyo.

State Department officials say the US, which is not a signatory to the ICC, was able to mitigate the drawbacks of such an expansion of the court’s reach, primarily by putting off any prosecution of the newest international crime until at least 2017.

But some critics say the US failure to stop the enshrining of “aggression” as an international crime demonstrates the limits of President Obama’s multilateralist vision – and sets the US on a collision course with the ICC when the issue comes up again later in the decade.

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