US condemned for imposing sanctions on ICC prosecutor

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Fatou B. Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC)

GLOBAL human rights groups have condemned the Trump administration for imposing sanctions on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Gambian Fatou Bensouda, and the head of the Office of the Prosecutor’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity, and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko from Lesotho.

On Wednesday the US government put into action a sweeping executive order issued on June 11 by President Donald Trump, which declared a dubious national emergency and authorised asset freezes and family entry bans that could be imposed against certain ICC officials.

The Trump administration had repeatedly threatened action to thwart ICC investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine into conduct by US and Israeli nationals and revoked the ICC prosecutor’s US visa in 2019.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also announced the restriction of visas against unspecified ICC individuals involved in investigating crimes allegedly committed under the ICC’s jurisdiction in Afghanistan.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the latest move against the Court, stating: ‘The Trump administration’s unprecedented imposition of asset freezes on prosecutors at the International Criminal Court (ICC) shows an egregious disregard for victims of the world’s worst crimes.’

Richard Dicker, international justice director at HRW, said: ‘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 administration’s conjuring up a “national emergency” to punish war crimes prosecutors shows utter disregard for the victims.’

The World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy (WFM/IGP) also waded into the controversy: ‘The inexcusable attacks against International Criminal Court (ICC) officials by the US cannot remain unchallenged by States Parties to the Rome Statute,’ it said.

WFM/IGP’s Interim Executive Director Keith Best said: ‘To attack the ICC in this way is equivalent to rubbishing the US contributions to the legacy of the Nuremberg and Tokyo International Military Tribunals.

‘The Trump administration’s abusive policy against international justice defenders patently breaks the global promise of “never again”.’

The ICC said it condemned the economic sanctions, adding: ‘The new measures…are another attempt to interfere with the Court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence and crucial work to address grave crimes of concern to the international community as mandated under the ICC Rome Statute.

‘These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the Court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law more generally.

‘The Court continues to stand firmly by its personnel and its mission of fighting impunity for the world’s most serious crimes under international law, independently and impartially, in accordance with its mandate.

‘In doing so, the Court benefits from the strong support and commitment of two-thirds of the world’s states which are parties to the Rome Statute,’ the ICC added.

The President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), O-Gon Kwon, also rejected the US measures against the ICC prosecutor and other members of her staff.

‘I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organisation,’ he said.

‘They only serve to weaken our common endeavour to fight impunity for mass atrocities.’

The ASP is the management oversight and legislative body of the ICC, which is expected to meet soon to consider the US action ‘to give effect to our unstinting support for the Court.’

When the Trump executive order was announced in June, 67 ICC member countries, including key US allies, issued a joint cross-regional statement expressing ‘unwavering support for the court as an independent and impartial judicial institution.’

HRW’s Dicker said: ‘ICC members have banded together before to stand with victims and defend the Court’s mandate from unprincipled attacks, including from the US.

‘These governments should stand ready to do all it takes to ensure the ICC remains on course so that no one, even from the most powerful countries, is above the law.’

The US, which is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, objects to the Court’s authority over nationals of non-member countries unless a UN Security Council resolution authorises it.

Afghanistan, however, is an ICC member country, which gives the Court authority to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by anyone – regardless of nationality – on Afghan territory or otherwise connected to the conflict.

The Office of the Prosecutor is not currently undertaking active investigations in Afghanistan because the office is assessing the country’s request and due to restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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