The Clinton administration initially supported the establishment of a permanent international criminal court. However, due to concerns about politicized prosecutions and the independence of the ICC Prosecutor, the US ultimately voted against the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC. Despite this vote, the US continued to participate in the negotiations following the Rome Diplomatic conference intended to prepare for the start of the Court's work.
On December 31, 2000 - the last day the Rome Statute was open for signature - the US signed the Rome Statute in order to:
"reaffirm our strong support for international accountability and for bringing to justice perpetrators of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. We do so as well because we wish to remain engaged in making the ICC an instrument of impartial and effective justice in the years to come."
This signature signaled US intent to ratify the Rome Statute, and, in doing so, it agreed not to defeat the "object and purpose" of the treaty. President Clinton identified several fundamental American concerns about the treaty, and, thus, did not recommend that his successor submit the treaty to the Senate until those concerns were addressed.
OFFICE OF WAR CRIMES ISSUES
President Clinton established the first-ever Office of War Crimes Issues in the Department of State, reporting directly to the Secretary of State and advising her on responses to atrocity crimes. Ambassador-at-Large David Scheffer led the office during the Clinton administration. His office was responsible, among other duties, for representing the US in the negotiations that led to the establishment of the ICC.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Why did President Clinton sign the Rome Statute?
"Signature will enhance our ability to further protect U.S. officials from unfounded charges and to achieve the human rights and accountability objectives of the ICC. In fact, in negotiations following the Rome Conference, we have worked effectively to develop procedures that limit the likelihood of politicized prosecutions. For example, U.S. civilian and military negotiators helped to ensure greater precision in the definitions of crimes within the Court's jurisdiction. But more must be done. Court jurisdiction over U.S. personnel should come only with U.S. ratification of the Treaty. The United States should have the chance to observe and assess the functioning of the Court, over time, before choosing to become subject to its jurisdiction. "
Statement on Signature of the International Criminal Court Treaty, 2000