The Government of the United States announced visa restrictions and economic sanctions against ICC staff and their immediate family members, in a series of unprecedented measures against officials at The Hague Prosecutor’s office investigating or prosecuting U.S. personnel, as well as international lawyers and human rights investigators acting without Washington’s consent.
This U.S. Government’s actions appear after ICC appeals judges authorized an investigation last March into allegations of war crimes committed in Afghanistan more than a decade ago by U.S. military and intelligence personnel. The ICC will also investigate possible crimes by the Afghan Government Forces and the Taliban militants in Afghanistan. The broad announcement by the U.S. Government leaves open doors to include witnesses from a broad range of fields, including academics, public servants, businesses, NGOs, suppliers, and the like.
The White House statement explained that “The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty”. To support their actions, the U.S. administration said that they have “strong reasons to believe” that there is “corruption and misconduct” at the highest levels of the prosecutor’s office.
The U.S. Government’s coercive measures also include blocking properties and bank accounts that these officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction.
In a statement, the International Criminal Court expressed their regret at the announcement by the Government of the United States of “further threats and coercive actions, including financial measures, against the Court and its officials” and stressed the need for sustained cooperation and global support for the Court.
“The ICC 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.”
These are the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the ICC, an independent international judicial institution, as well as on the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, which reflects the commitment and cooperation of the ICC’s 123 States Parties, representing all regions of the world.
“These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings.” said the ICC statement. “They are announced with the declared aim of influencing the actions of ICC officials in the context of the Court’s independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings. An attack on the ICC also represents an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice. The U.S. sanctions against the ICC staff are an unacceptable attack and obstruction against international justice”, The Court stated.
Last week, ten ICC States members who are also members of the United Nations’ Security Council, issued a statement reconfirming their “unwavering support for the Court as an independent and judicial institution”.
This week the ICC will call for an extraordinary meeting of the Bureau of the Assembly to renew “the unbreakable commitment with the court” of the 123 States Parties.
The United States Government maintains a controversial relationship with the ICC since a while; openly showing its opposition to the Court’s decisions in several cases, notably since November 2017 when the Office of the Prosecutor requested to open an investigation into the war in Afghanistan.
This request was initially denied. One of the reasons of the chamber’s refusal last year, among other issues, was the consideration that its chances of success were “extremely limited.” That decision was reversed in the Appeal Court in March this year, which allows the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to issue arrest warrants against suspects.
In a document, the ICC warns that there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that CIA members practised torture against detainees at secret U.S. intelligence centres located in Poland, Romania and Lithuania.
The United States is not a State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. However, Afghanistan, Poland, Romania and Lithuania are States Parties to the Statute, allowing the ICC to exercise its jurisdiction into alleged war crimes or crimes against humanity when the authorities of the country concerned do not carry out credible investigations.
Still, the ICC remains concerned that investigations under President Obama on U.S. military activities in Afghanistan did not go to the chain of command and did not include actions by the CIA.