The U.S. has never been a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but for the most part has maintained a positive relationship with the institution. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton played a pivotal role in the establishment of the organization, and both former presidents George Bush and Barack Obama have worked alongside the ICC in a cooperative manner.
However, it appears that the current U.S. president, Donald Trump, has no desire to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. At a conference held by the conservative Federalist Society, Trump’s security adviser John Bolton shared a few disturbing words about the current government’s attitude towards the ICC. In his speech, Bolton said: “We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC…We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
Bolton’s aggression towards the ICC is related to the organization’s investigation of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. ICC prosecutors published a report in 2016 which claimed that: “Members of U.S. armed forces appear to have subjected at least 61 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity on the territory of Afghanistan between 1 May 2003 and 31 December 2014. The majority of the abuses are alleged to have occurred in 2003-2004.”
Instead of working with the ICC to apprehend those who were involved in these criminal activities, Bolton has accused the international court of infringing upon US sovereignty and the U.S. constitution. The security adviser also went as far as to threaten sanctions against ICC judges if they took any further action. Bolton has assured both Americans and the ICC that “This president [Trump] will not allow American citizens to be prosecuted by foreign bureaucrats, and he will not allow other nations to dictate our means of self-defence.”
Despite Bolton’s attempts at fear-mongering, the fact is that the role of the ICC is not to impede on state sovereignty and overthrow their judicial systems but to address the most serious of crimes committed by individuals, ensure perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, and achieve justice for the victims of these heinous crimes. Currently, the ICC has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. It can also perform its own investigations, like the one it is conducted in Afghanistan regarding U.S. troops.
Furthermore, the ICC does not have a police force with which to apprehend criminals on its behalf, and it only has jurisdiction over countries that have signed the Rome Statute. Since America is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, the ICC cannot take any further action. The purpose of its investigation was to highlight that the CIA have committed war crimes against Afghan detainees and that action should be taken to achieve justice for these victims. Whether that occurs in an American court or is referred to the ICC is up to the Trump administration.
Bolton’s ambition to kill off the ICC is concerning, as the international court plays a significant role in achieving justice for victims of egregious crimes. Given America’s superpower status on the world stage, Bolton’s stance may stifle the ICC’s ability to fulfill its role and may even result in the organization’s premature demise.