The Trump Administration Imposes Sanctions On Prosecutors Of The International Criminal Court

In its latest attempt to terminate an inquiry into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan, the Trump administration has imposed economic sanctions on International Criminal Court (ICC) officials.  

Announcing the sanctions in a press conference on September 2, the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the ICC as a “thoroughly broken and corrupted institution.” He stated that “we [the United States] will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”

In response, the ICC has condemned Wednesday’s sanctions as “another attempt to interfere with the court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence.”

Other international actors have also responded with outrage to the decision. Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, described the sanctions as “another brazen attack against international justice.” Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, stated that “the Trump administration’s perverse use of sanctions, devised for alleged terrorists and drug kingpins, against prosecutors seeking justice for grave international crimes, magnifies the failure of the US to prosecute torture.” 

The economic sanctions are directed specifically at Fatou Bensouda, head prosecutor at the ICC, and Phakiso Mochochoko, the court’s head of jurisdiction. The sanctions block access to their US assets and restrict commercial and financial dealings with US persons.  

These sanctions are only the latest in a series of coercive actions by the Trump administration to frustrate the ICC investigations in Afghanistan. After revoking Bensouda’s visa last year, the most recent decision gives effect to the executive order authorized by Trump on June 11. The order declared a national emergency and authorized asset freezes and family entry bans that could be imposed on any individual believed to be involved in the Afghanistan investigation.

While their attempts to bully the court into terminating the Afghanistan inquiry are unlikely to be successful, these actions will hinder it, reports the Guardian. The ICC is already facing a lack of cooperation from the Afghan government and this order will weaken court’s standing and may encourage others to withdraw their support. 

 Created by a UN treaty in 2002, in the aftermath of the Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocides, the ICC is a permanent international court established to investigate and pursue justice for issues such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It was formed as a court of “last resort,” only intervening if national authorities are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute.

Since the ICC’s founding, the US has had a difficult relationship with the institution. Apart from Turkey, the US is the only NATO ally not to have ratified the Rome Statute ­– the organisation’s founding agreement – due to the possible prosecution of US citizens.  Despite this, in recent years the Obama administration did assist ICC investigations. 

Unsurprisingly, the arrival of the Trump administration has marked a turn in relations. They have accused the court of corruption and claim that their investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine are being manipulated by US adversaries, even though the New York City Bar Association has observed that “there is no evidence to support the fear that the I.C.C. would engage in frivolous or political prosecutions against anyone — let alone against Americans.

While the US has not ratified the Rome Statute, Afghanistan has. This allows the court to authorise an investigation into war crimes committed on Afghan territory by all actors, regardless of nationality. The ICC has stressed that the inquiry is not specifically targeted at the US, stating it “has no specific desire to prosecute Americans.”

Repeated attacks on an internationally respected institution, established to seek justice for victims the world’s worst atrocities, is not a good look. Unfortunately, this decision is characteristic of the Trump administration’s hostile approach to multilateral institutions and indifference to human rights. And yet, if Trump is so against international ‘meddling’, the answer is simple: he must carry out a meaningful inquiry into the alleged human rights violations by US actors in Afghan territory.

Rafaela Alford
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