Trump Administration Sanctions ICC Chief Prosecutor, But ICC Condemns Action
The U.S. government has taken the unprecedented step of issuing sanction against two members of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague and blocking their properties. The action posted on Wednesday by the U.S. Treasury Department targets the Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian national who has headed the ICC since June 2012.
A former Deputy Prosecutor in charge of the Prosecutions Division of the ICC since 2004 and former Minister of Justice of her home country, the Gambia, West Africa, Bensouda angered the U.S. administration when she announced plans last year to investigate American soldiers for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
According to U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, “Today, we take the next step, because the ICC continues to target Americans sadly.”
Also sanctioned in the U.S. action is Phakiso Mochochoko, the head of the ICC’s Jurisdiction, Complementary and Cooperation Division. According to Secretary Pompeo, Mochochoko “materially assisted the Court’s Chief Prosecutor in the investigations of U.S. personnel.”
The U.S. has already blocked visas to the ICC officials to deny them entry to pursue their investigations. The American government says it will take additional visa restrictions and broader sanctions against anyone helping the ICC officials. Last July, President Donald Trump authorized sanctions against the ICC over its move to open investigations for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity of American soldiers in Afghanistan.
The ICC Chief Prosecutor told Radio France in an interview that the decision to sanction ICC officials “is a naked attempt to interfere with the course of justice”, and termed it an “unprecedented and coercive” move against the court and its judicial independence, noting that such sanctions are usually reserved for terrorists and drug traffickers.
Bensouda has vowed to press on with her investigations.
Last July the VOA reported that, as part of pressuring the ICC, U.S. Attorney General William Barr also announced the Department of Justice has evidence of corruption in the office of the ICC Chief Prosecutor. He, however, did not provide more details.
In his Executive Order issued in June, “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated With the International Criminal Court”, President Trump said, “I therefore determine that any attempt by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States, or of personnel of countries that are United States allies and who are not parties to the Rome Statute or have not otherwise consented to ICC jurisdiction, constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”
According to Section 1. (a) of the U.S. President’s Executive Order as it relates to the two ICC officials, “All properties and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person, of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in…”
However, The International Criminal Court (ICC) has condemned “unprecedented” sanctions imposed by the United States on prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and one of her top aides in retaliation for a probe into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
The Hague-based tribunal said the sanction announced by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against Bensouda and another senior official, Phakiso Mochochoko, were “serious attacks” against the rule of law.
Pompeo announced the move on Wednesday, saying that “the ICC continues to target Americans”.
The ICC said in a statement 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”.
The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the US or subject to US law and target Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Mochochoko.
Pompeo also said individuals and entities that continue to materially support Bensouda and Mochochoko would risk exposure to sanctions as well.
“We will not tolerate its illegitimate attempt to subject Americans to its jurisdiction,” Pompeo said.
The war crimes court said it “continues to stand firmly by its personnel and its mission of fighting impunity for the world’s most serious crimes”.
“The ICC will continue its investigation into possible war crimes by the United States and its allies in Afghanistan,” the ICC said.
The State Department also restricted the issuance of visas for individuals Pompeo said were involved in the court’s efforts to investigate US personnel, though he did not name those affected.
Member countries of the International Criminal Court have hit out against the “unacceptable” sanctions.
“I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organisation,” said O-Gon Kwon, President of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties.
UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, was concerned by Pompeo’s announcement, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
Dujarric said that “we trust that any restriction taken against individuals will be implemented consistently” with a decades-old US deal with the United Nations to host the world body’s headquarters in New York.
The European Union promised on Thursday to defend the ICC while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the United Kingdom regretted the US move.
“The International Criminal Court is facing persistent external challenges and the European Union stands firm against all attempts to undermine the international system of criminal justice by hindering the work of its core institutions,” Peter Stano, spokesman for EU Diplomatic Chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters.
“We are committed to strengthening our support to the ICC because this is key factor in fighting against impunity. We are standing by the ICC and we are not happy to see steps which are going against the activities of the ICC.”
It can be recalled that Bensouda was given the go-ahead by the court in March to investigate whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and US forces.
The US revoked Bensouda’s entry visa last year in response to the possible Afghanistan inquiry. But under an agreement between the UN and Washington, she was still able to regularly travel to New York to brief the UN Security Council on cases it had referred to the court in The Hague.
Rights groups immediately condemned the US designations.
Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch International Justice Director, said it was a “stunning perversion of US sanctions”.
“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,” he said.