image Photo: Flash90 & Reuters

US to sanction ICC over war crime probes

The United States will no longer “stand by” as its people and allies around the world including Israel are threatened by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has itself become increasingly targeted by allegations of corruption and politization of international law.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an unprecedented executive order last night ‘authorizing the imposition of economic sanctions against ICC officials, as part of Washington’s retaliatory response to the court’s decision earlier decision this year to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during armed conflict in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan since the 1 May 2003.

In its 12 April 2019 rejection of a request by its own prosecutor to probe suspected misdeeds by U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, the ICC ruled such action “would not serve the interests of justice” and that “prospects for a successful investigation and prosecution extremely limited.” That verdict was later opposed by ICC’s Appeals Chamber less than a year later, however, without citation of cause.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda immediately welcomed the development and urged “full support and cooperation” of a query, despite full awareness that the court has no jurisdiction over the United States and its military.

Washington is not a signatory of the Rome Statute which grants the ICC its required international mandate.

Nevertheless, the ICC prosecutor does not appear less determined to pursue justice, which she intends to attain in cooperation with Afghanistan Authorities, who are ranked 173rd out of 198 countries in the International Corruption Index for 2019.

“In the independent and impartial exercise of its mandate, my office welcomes the opportunity to engage with all parties to the conflict to advance its investigations,” she said, adding, “In this respect, I particularly look forward to continuing a constructive and collaborative exchange with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to determine how justice may best be served under the shared framework complementarity, domestic and international action.

The U.S. followed through on its pledge to retaliate against the ICC’s politicized conduct just over 3 months after the court’s decision to investigate allegations of American crimes in Afghanistan.

“We cannot, we will not, stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court, and indeed, I have a message to many close allies around the world: your people could be next, especially those from NATO countries who fought terrorism in Afghanistan right alongside of us,” U.S. Secretary of State declared Mike Pompeo.

According to Pompeo, “The Trump administration is taking the following actions: first, we’re authorizing the imposition of economic sanctions against ICC officials directly engaged in ICC efforts to investigate U.S. personnel or allied personnel against that allied state’s consent and against others who materially support such officials’ activities. Designations will be made on a case by case basis against specific individuals or entities. And, second, the United States is expanding visa restrictions with officials directly engaged in those same investigations. We are extending and expanding these restrictions to include their family members. It gives us no joy to punish them, but we cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States – to shop and travel and otherwise enjoy American freedoms – as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also highlighted Washington’s ‘grave concern’ vis-à-vis the court’s conduct toward Israel.  “The ICC is already threatening Israel with an investigation of so-called war crimes committed by its forces and personnel in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip” said the top U.S. diplomat. “Given Israel’s robust civilian and military legal system and strong track record of investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by military personnel, it is clear the ICC is only putting Israel in its crosshairs for nakedly political purposes. It’s a mockery of justice,” he said.

Pompeo went on to slam the ICC prosecutor’s seemingly preconceived position on Israel, saying, “In brief, I am satisfied (1) that war crimes had been or are being committed in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. (2) That potential cases arising from the situation would be admissible and (3) that there are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interest of justice.”

The so-called “war crimes” to which the ICC prosecutor has alleged include Israel’s construction of settlements on lands the Palestinians demand for a future state, which the international community perceive as illegal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed praise for the “bold leadership” of President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by sanctioning the ICC, which he referred to as “the corrupt and biased international criminal court.”

“This kangaroo court is a politicized court. It is obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights while turning a blind eye to the world’s greatest abusers of human rights, including the terrorist regime in Iran,” he said.

Netanyahu also charged that “The ICC fabricates outlandish charges against Israel, outrageously claiming that Jews living in their historic homeland constitutes a war crime. Ridiculous. Shame on them. And once again America, thank you for standing up for justice and for standing up for truth.”

The International Criminal Court responded to the U.S. sanctions by expressing “profound regret at the announcement of further threats and coercive actions, including financial measures, against the court and its officials.”

The ICC statement further asserted that it “stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate bestowed upon it by the Rome Statute and the states that are party to it.”

The High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell subsequently proclaimed that its 27 member states are “steadfast supporters of the International Criminal Court” and reiterated Brussels’ unyielding “support to this institution.”

“Look, I learned this very bad news when I was finishing the meeting of the (Eastern Partnership) council,” said the EU Foreign Policy Chief, “so my answer has to be cautious because I don’t know exactly the extent of this decision, I cannot react on the spot on everything.”

“For sure this is a matter of serious concern as you can understand because we, as European Union, we are steadfast supporters of the International Criminal Court, I think that for sure I can reiterate our support to this institution,” Borrell underscored.