Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeats threats to ICC. Credit: U.S. Department of State. - Photo: 2019

U.S. Threats Against International Criminal Court Under Fire

By Shanta Roy

NEW YORK (IDN) – The U.S. threat to penalize and impose economic sanctions against judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – if they bring charges of war crimes against American troops in Afghanistan – has sparked an avalanche of criticisms from human rights groups, think tanks and civil society organizations (CSOs).

The strong protests have come from the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), among others.

Commenting the U.S. threats, the President of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, O-Gon Kwon, has reiterated the Assembly’s strong support for the ICC: “At its 17th session in December 2018, the States Parties reconfirmed their unwavering support for the Court as an independent and impartial judicial institution, and reiterated their commitment to uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute and to preserve its integrity undeterred by any threats against the Court, its officials and those cooperating with it. This unwavering support continues today.”

Asked if it was unprecedented for the U.S. to interfere in the work of ICC, an international institution, of which it is not a member, Dr Tawanda Hondora, Executive Director of WFM-IGP, told IDN: “Unfortunately, the U.S. has a long history of using its economic and military power to insulate its nationals and those in government from investigation and prosecution for serious crimes under international law.”

From the early 2000s, he pointed out, the U.S. has been using bilateral immunity agreements and threats of sanctions to force countries that are Member States of the Rome Statute (which created the ICC) to provide immunity to U.S. nationals suspected of committing serious crimes under the Statute.

Asked how best the international community can react to the U.S. move, he said: “Our view is that Member States of the Rome Statute should cause the General Assembly of the United Nations to discuss and to adopt a resolution condemning current U.S. policy on the ICC.”

Washington’s ICC policy poses a serious threat to the operations of other critical multilateral bodies, he warned.

“And, it is important that the international community holds the U.S. to the same standards to which other countries are held,” said Dr Hondora, a former Director of Investments at Humanity United, and Deputy Director in Amnesty International’s Africa, Law and Policy, and International Advocacy departments.

He said the U.S. government’s policy undermines the rule of law in multilateral relations and sends the signal that might is right.

“This policy gives cover and effective immunity to U.S. nationals and allies for acts of torture, murder, rape and other war crimes in Afghanistan. It also sends a clear message that Afghani victims of some of the worst atrocities known to humanity are not deserving of justice,” he added.

As of March 2019, there were 124 ICC member states. Burundi left the ICC in 2017 and the Philippines announced March 18 it will withdraw from the ICC.

At a press conference March 15, during a visit to the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, said the United States has declined, since 1998, to join the ICC because of its broad, unaccountable prosecutorial powers and the threat it poses to American national sovereignty.

“We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation. We feared that the court could eventually pursue politically motivated prosecutions of Americans, and our fears were warranted,” he said.

In November 2017, Pompeo said, the ICC prosecutor requested approval to initiate investigation into, “the situation in Afghanistan”.

“That could illegitimately target American personnel for prosecutions and sentencing. In September of 2018, the Trump administration warned the ICC that if it tried to pursue an investigation of Americans there would be consequences. I understand that the prosecutor’s request for an investigation remains pending,” he declared.

Asked to respond to Pompeo’s comments, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters March 15: “Look, we’ve seen what the Secretary of State said this morning. We’re taking a look at the implication. We’ve noted that… I think the Secretary of State underscored the existing Host Country Agreement and the need to respect that. But, obviously, we’ll take a further look. As you know, the ICC is not itself a UN body of which the Secretary‑General has any authority, but he has, over a number of times, expressed his support for international law.”

Question: Does the SG believe that any judge sitting on the ICC should be sanctioned by any country?

Spokesman: I’m… I’ve had to say what I’ve had to say on that.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Andrew Gilmour, UN Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) for Human Rights, ACLU, ICJ and the ISHR have called on the world body to address “a clear case of intimidation and threat of reprisal by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo”.

The ASG is mandated to lead efforts within the UN system to end all intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights.

In keeping with this mandate, the ACLU, ICJ and ISHR have called on the ASG to take urgent action, including by publicly denouncing the comments, and urging U.S. representatives to refrain from adopting any legislation, policy or practice that has the effect of undermining unhindered access to and communication with the ICC and other international bodies.

“The policy announced by Pompeo is part and parcel of a concerning attack by the current U.S. administration on multilateralism, international rule of law, and global and regional bodies mandated to monitor and investigate human rights violations and fight impunity,” said Sam Zarifi, Secretary General of the ICJ.

Pompeo’s announcement comes on the heels of threats made by U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton in a September 10, 2018 speech to the Federalist Society.

Bolton explicitly threatened ICC judges, prosecutors, and personnel with dire consequences if they proceed with an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by U.S. military and intelligence forces in Afghanistan.

“We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law,” said Bolton, adding: “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

He also threatened to “take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies”, and to “remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 March 2019]

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeats threats to ICC. Credit: U.S. Department of State.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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