On Thursday, United States President Donald Trump authorized sanctions and visa restrictions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its officials. This comes two months after the ICC allowed an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by the US armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan.
Trump’s new executive order will freeze all personal US assets and prohibit entry into the country for all ICC personnel who “have directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States.” This sanction has also been extended for US allies.
The restrictions will also apply to the family members of the ICC officials directly engaged in the investigation.
“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, travel, and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a press conference on Thursday.
The conference was also attended by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Attorney General William Barr.
In a public statement, the ICC condemned Trump’s move as “the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the ICC” that “constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings.”
The President of the ICC’s Assembly of State Parties O-Gon Kwon also condemned the Trump administration’s response in a separate statement, calling it an attempt to “undermine our common endeavor to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities.”
The ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had sought authorization in 2017 to conduct an investigation into the actions of the US military in Afghanistan. It concluded from the information obtained that the US armed forces had committed war crimes such as “acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence” in Afghanistan as well as in clandestine CIA facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania.
Authorization was initially denied to Bensouda by the ICC pretrial judges in 2019, with the panel concluding then that “an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan at this stage would not serve the interests of justice.”
In March, however, the ICC Appeals Chamber unanimously allowed for the investigation to proceed stating that the pretrial chamber had erred in its consideration of the “interests of justice” factor.
Richard Dicker, the International Justice Director at Human Rights Watch said that the sanctions were “putting the U.S. on the side of those who commit and cover up human rights abuses, not those who prosecute them.”
“Asset freezes and travel bans are for human rights violators, not prosecutors and judges seeking to bring justice for victims of serious abuses,” he explained.
However, the White House deemed the sanctions necessary to protect its armed officers from “unjust prosecution.”
“The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
“As the President’s Executive Order makes clear, the United States will continue to use any means necessary to protect our citizens and our allies from unjust prosecution by the International Criminal Court.”
“We cannot and we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court” Pompeo said in the press conference. Pompeo also claimed that misinformation had been provided to the ICC by foreign parties.
However, he did not elaborate further on this claim.
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