New York, USA – The US has imposed sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, Fatou Bensouda, in the latest of a series of unilateral and radical foreign policy moves.
Announcing the sanctions, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, did not give any specific reasons for the move other than to say the ICC “continues to target Americans” and that Bensouda was “materially assisting” that alleged effort.
He also announced sanctions against Phakiso Mochochoko, the ICC’s director of jurisdiction, complementary and cooperation division.
The US Treasury issued a statement saying Bensouda and Mochochoko had been deemed “specially designated nationals”, grouping them alongside terrorists and narcotics traffickers, blocking their assets and prohibited US citizens from having any dealings with them.
In June, Donald Trump issued an executive order imposing sanctions on ICC officials involved in investigating Americans, in response to the court’s decision to open an inquiry into war crimes committed by all sides in Afghanistan.
The US also opposes ICC scrutiny of potential Israeli crimes against Palestinians as part of an investigation that also looks at abuses carried out by Palestinian security forces.
The US was roundly condemned for its anti-ICC campaign, which was not supported by any other western democracy or US ally apart from Israel.
In a statement in response to the sanctions on Wednesday, the ICC said: “These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the Court…and the rule of law more generally.”
Richard Dicker, the international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said the announcement “marks a stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalize rights abusers and kleptocrats, to persecute those tasked with prosecuting international crimes”.
“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the international criminal court for justice,” Dicker said.
The decision to escalate its campaign against the ICC is one of a series of radical steps the Trump administration has taken on foreign policy that have left it isolated on the world stage.
On Monday, it was alone in voting against a counter-terrorism resolution in the UN security council. On other recent council votes involving US efforts to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, Washington has only managed to secure the support of the Dominican Republic.
On Wednesday, Pompeo also confirmed that the US would not be taking part in an international effort to find a vaccine for Covid-19, because the World Health Organization was involved. The administration has sought to blame the WHO for the pandemic, against which the US has fared worse than any other major industrialised economy.
“This administration wants multilateral institutions to function, to actually work, but multilateralism just for the sake of it, just to get together in a room and chat doesn’t add value,” Pompeo said on Wednesday.
“This should be a five-alarm fire for the UN,” Mark Leon Goldberg, the editor of the UN Dispatch newsletter, said on Twitter. “It’s one small step from imposing sanctions against top WHO officials as part of Trump’s campaign to shift blame for his handling of Covid-19.”
International Criminal Court officials sanctioned by US
The US has imposed sanctions on senior officials in the International Criminal Court (ICC), including chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the court of “illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction”.
The Hague-based ICC is currently investigating whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
The US has criticised the court since its foundation and is one of a dozen states which have not signed up.
Balkees Jarrah, senior counsel at the non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch, condemned the sanctions as a “shameful new low for US commitments to justice for victims of the worst crimes”.
Mr Pompeo’s move marked a “stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalize rights abusers and kleptocrats, to target those prosecuting war crimes”, she tweeted.
Created by a UN treaty in 2002, the ICC investigates and brings to justice those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, intervening when national authorities cannot or will not prosecute.
The treaty has been ratified by 123 countries, including the UK. But the US – along with China, India and Russia – has refused to join, while some African nations have accused the body of being unfairly focused on Africans.
What are the sanctions?
President Donald Trump issued an executive order in June, which allows the US to block the assets of ICC employees and stop them entering the country.
Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Mr Pompeo said Ms Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, the head of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, were to be sanctioned under this order.
Dismissing the ICC as a “thoroughly broken and corrupted institution”, he said those who continued to “materially support those individuals risk exposure to sanctions as well”.
The US state department has also restricted the issuance of visas for ICC staff involved in “efforts to investigate US personnel”
When President Trump issued his executive order in June, the ICC denounced what it called “further threats and coercive actions” against it.
“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,” its statement read.
Who is Fatou Bensouda?
As a former justice minister in The Gambia, her home country, Ms Bensouda was ideally placed to succeed Luis Moreno-Ocampo as ICC chief prosecutor, as she had been his deputy throughout his term.
She had also previously been a senior legal adviser at a UN-backed tribunal which prosecuted the alleged ringleaders in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
While she broadened ICC investigations to look at conflicts elsewhere, which has now earned her the wrath of the US, Africa remained her major focus. All ICC trials have so far focused only on Africans – and a militia leader from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Thomas Lubanga, became the first person to be sentenced for war crimes by the ICC in 2012.
But Ms Bensouda also faced a string of defeats, including the acquittal of Ivory Coast’s ex-President Laurent Gbagbo on war crimes charges in 2019 and the dropping of crimes against humanity charges against Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2014.
What is the ICC investigating?
The ICC began investigating alleged war crimes committed by the US and others in the Afghan conflict earlier this year.
According to the ICC’s legal process, the court can issue arrest warrants or a summons to appear once prosecutors have gathered sufficient evidence and identified suspects. From there, they will decided if there is enough evidence for a case to go to trial.
At the time, Mr Pompeo vowed to protect Americans from the probe, calling it “a truly breathtaking action by an unaccountable, political institution masquerading as a legal body”.
A 2016 report from the ICC said there was a reasonable basis to believe the US military had committed torture at secret detention sites operated by the CIA.
The actions of the Taliban, the Afghan government and US troops since May 2003 are expected to be examined by the court.
Afghanistan is a member of the court but officials there have also expressed opposition to the inquiry.
The International Criminal Court was created to try people accused of genocide, war crimes & crimes against humanity.
The Trump administration has placed sanctions on ICC prosecutors, showing it sides with the perpetrators of the world’s worst crimes rather than the victims.
Trump’s move gives effect to a sweeping executive order issued in June, which declared a “national emergency”.
What is the “national emergency” in prosecuting war criminals?
The Trump administration had repeatedly threatened action to thwart ICC investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine into conduct by US and Israeli nationals.
What Washington fears, in short, is justice.
Significantly, the ICC is a court of last resort, stepping in only if national authorities do not conduct genuine domestic proceedings.
It is the last hope for victims of appalling crimes, when achieving justice is impossible anywhere else.
The government of Afghanistan, an ICC member, has asked the ICC prosecutor to defer her investigation, asserting that Afghan authorities can conduct credible national proceedings, although the Afghan government has not demonstrated the capacity and willingness to do so.
Senior-level US civilian & military officials who could bear responsibility for authorizing the well-documented torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, or for failing to punish those who carried out abuses, have not been held to account before US courts.
This is not just an attack on the ICC; it’s an attack on all of international law. The move utterly delegitimizes targeted sanctions, one of our most powerful tools for punishing human rights abusers, war criminals, and others who violate international law.
The Trump administration has put Fatou #Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (@IntlCrimCourt) and one of her top aids, on the sanctions list historically reserved for war criminals and international terrorists.
Unbelievable. Pompeo announced that the US will begin imposing sanctions on two @IntlCrimCourt officials, including ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
Why, you ask? Well, because the ICC is actually doing its job by investigating US human rights violations.
Secretary Pompeo has outraged human rights advocates around the world by sanctioning judges, prosecutors & at the International Criminal Court (ICC) citing policy differences with a court supported by 120 nations including many US allies for prosecuting war criminals and others
The USA continues to show the entire world how it’s an out-of-control rogue regime.
The Trump admin just imposed sanctions on senior officials in the International Criminal Court, including the chief prosecutor, because they are investigating US war crimes
The US government sanctions the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and another another official. The Hague-based ICC is currently investigating whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
The Trump Administration’s announcement of sanctions against the ICC prosecutor exposes the fallacy of the White House’s professed commitment to the rule of law, and will further undermine U.S. leadership on international justice.
The International Criminal Court judges crimes against humanity. The US commits them frequently. US “sanctions” the Court’s Prosecutor and threatens all judges to avoid investigation on its atrocious crimes: an illegal practice that amounts to a confession of guilt.
The ICC’s 123 member states have the collective power to counter the USA’s shameful sanctions on the Prosecutor and ICC-OTP staff. A strong and unified response must include urgent practical measures to negate the effects of the sanctions on the Court’s staff and operations.
The United States has slapped sanctions on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda for her investigation into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
The Trump Administration has leveled sanctions against the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, who is investigating allegations that U.S. troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
Human rights groups decried the sanctions.
US Government imposes sanctions on Intl Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda & Head of Jurisdiction & cooperation division Phakiso Mochochoko. US Accuses ICC of ‘targeting America’ just months after ICC authorized probe into alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan
Sanctioning the International Criminal Court shows once again that Trump is on the side of authoritarians around the world. The United States should be working to strengthen international human rights standards, not targeting officials who uphold them.