US Continuous Unilateralism: Sanctions on ICC’s Staff

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Publish Date : 06/16/2020 20:01
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The Trump administration’s announced action against the International Criminal Court (ICC) escalates its efforts to thwart justice for victims of serious crimes.

The White House said that US President Donald Trump has authorized economic sanctions against ICC officials "directly engaged with any effort to investigate or prosecute United States personnel without the consent of the United States," as well as the expansion of visa restrictions against these officials and their family members. In other words, Trump’s order would block the financial assets of court employees and bar them and their immediate relatives from entering the United States.


The International Criminal Court has condemned the Trump administration’s decision, saying it amounted to “an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings.”  Noting that the US sanctions represent "an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice," the ICC, which has 123 member states, vowed it would stand firmly by its staff and remain "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."

 

Matter of serious concern
The decision has been widely criticized.
"The independence of the ICC and its ability to operate without interference must be guaranteed so that it can decide matters without any improper influence, inducement, pressures, threats or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reasons," said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.


The German Foreign Ministry on Friday expressed its deep concern over the US decision. "We have noted with great concern the US statement that gives the secretary of state the opportunity, in some cases, to introduce additional visa restrictions and additional economic sanctions against officials of the International Criminal Court," the ministry said in a statement. "We reject any attempts to put pressure on the independent court, its staff, and those who work with it,"


The French Foreign Ministry said “this decision represents a serious attack against the court and the states party to the Rome Statute and, beyond that, a challenge to multilateralism and the independence of the judiciary,”


EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Trump’s order “is a matter of serious concern” and he described EU members as “steadfast supporters” of the tribunal.” Borrell said “it is a key factor in bringing justice and peace,” and that “it must be respected and supported by all nations.”


The United Nations has “taken note with concern” about reports of Trump’s order, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.


Switzerland said it “regrets” the U.S. sanctions and affirmed its support for the court “as an independent institution that prosecutes the most serious crimes and thereby contributes to lasting peace and international stability.”


The American Civil Liberties Union suggested it might seek legal recourse and said the order was “a dangerous display of his contempt for human rights and those working to uphold them.”


Amnesty International Advocacy Director Daniel Balson argued in a statement that "the vague and open-ended language in the executive order could leave open the possibility that NGO workers, activists, foreign government officials, and others working to advance international justice may find themselves implicated by these obstructive measures."


Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the US threats, saying the court is blackmailed by a “lawless gang posing as diplomats”. "What else will it take for the global community to wake up & smell the consequences of appeasing the bully?" Zarif wrote on his Twitter account.

 

Background
The ICC in March authorized an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan, including those that may have been committed by the US military and the Central Intelligence Agency, which could lead to the indictment of personnel. The ICC, which has 123 member states, was established when the Rome Statute took effect in 2002. It prosecutes crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.


The ICC exists because it is difficult to hold government officials and other powerful actors accountable when they commit grave human rights abuses. That impunity, in turn, is corrosive to the broader rule of law, the prospects of lasting peace, and respect for the dignity of all. Since the ICC’s establishment in 2002 as a court of last resort, diverse coalitions of faith-based organizations, human rights advocates, legal practitioners, victims of atrocities, and other constituencies have often looked to it to complement and reinforce their work for justice. Like all other human institutions, the ICC has room for improvement. Nevertheless, from Uganda and the Central African Republic to Darfur and the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar, the ICC continues to play a vital role, filling gaps in the justice system by independently investigating and prosecuting grave atrocity crimes when national authorities do not do so, or when they seek out help.


This is the context that makes the latest steps in the U.S. government’s attack on the ICC so alarming. It is unacceptable that the United States would target the judges, prosecutors, and other legal professionals of a court that more than 120 countries have joined – including U.S. allies in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region – using tools that are designed to stigmatize war criminals and disrupt terrorist networks. At this fragile moment in our country and globally, the U.S. government must find ways to address its stated concerns without alienating other countries that have supported international justice or signaling to those who may face the scrutiny of institutions like the ICC that intimidation is an acceptable means of avoiding accountability.


The Trump administration’s announced action against the International Criminal Court (ICC) escalates its efforts to thwart justice for victims of serious crimes, Human Rights Watch said. The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to block ICC investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine that could probe conduct by US and Israeli nationals. The US revoked the ICC prosecutor’s visa in 2019 in retaliation for what was then a potential investigation in Afghanistan. On May 15, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed to “exact consequences” if the ICC “continues down its current course” – that is, if the court moves forward with a Palestine investigation. The sanctions can be applied on a “case-by-case basis” in relation to ICC investigations of US personnel or personnel of US allies.


The ICC is a court of last resort, stepping in only if national authorities do not conduct genuine domestic proceedings. The US has conducted some limited investigations into alleged abuses by US personnel in Afghanistan. But senior-level civilian and military officials who could bear responsibility for authorizing these abuses, or failing to punish them, have not been held to account before US courts. Impunity for abuses by US forces has left a devastating legacy in Afghanistan.

 

 

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