Trump authorises sanctions against international court officials

Al-Jazeera  /  June 11, 2020

The ICC order is latest attack by the Trump administration against international organisations, treaties and agreements.

US President Donald Trump lobbed a broadside attack on Thursday against the International Criminal Court (ICC) by authorising economic sanctions and travel restrictions against court workers directly involved in investigating American troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan without US consent.

The United States “has repeatedly rejected the International Criminal Court’s assertions of jurisdiction over United States personnel”, read a statement from the White House press secretary.

The ICC’s actions “are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty”, it said.

A senior administration official, who was not authorised to publicly discuss the order and spoke only on the condition of anonymity, alleged on Thursday that Russia may be encouraging accusations against US personnel. The official declined to provide details about the alleged Russian influence of the court, according to The Associated Press news agency.

The White House called the court an “unaccountable and ineffective” bureaucracy that “targets and threatens United States personnel” and that of its allies.

Latest attack 

The executive order signed by the president marks his administration’s latest attack against international organisations, treaties and agreements that do not hew to its policies. Since taking office, Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and two arms control treaties with Russia.

He has pulled the US out of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, threatened to leave the International Postal Union and announced an end to cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. It has 123 state parties that recognise its jurisdiction.

Unlike those treaties and agreements, however, the US has never been a member of the ICC. Administrations of both parties have been concerned about the potential for political prosecutions of American troops and officials for alleged war crimes and other atrocities. The US has extracted pledges from most of the court’s members that they will not seek such prosecutions and risk losing US military and other assistance.

However, ICC prosecutors have shown a willingness to press ahead with investigations into US service members and earlier this year launched one that drew swift US condemnation.


Last year, after the former national security adviser, John Bolton, threatened ICC employees with sanctions if they went forward with prosecutions of US or allied troops, including from Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Bensouda had asked ICC judges to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan that could have involved Americans. The judges initially rejected the request, but the denial was overturned after Bensouda appealed the decision and the investigation was authorised in March.

The appellate ruling marked the first time the court’s prosecutor had been cleared to investigate US forces, and set the global tribunal on a collision course with the Trump administration. Bensouda pledged to carry out an independent and impartial investigation and called for full support and cooperation from all parties. Pompeo blasted the decision at the time, calling it “a truly breath-taking action by an unaccountable political institution masquerading as a legal body”.

The case involves allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani Network fighters, as well as US forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003. Bensouda said there is information that members of the US military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period”.

Bolton, and then Pompeo, said such steps are necessary to prevent The Hague-based court from infringing on US sovereignty by prosecuting American forces or allies for torture or other war crimes. Pompeo said in late May that the US is capable of punishing its own citizens for atrocities and should not be subjected to a foreign tribunal that is designed to be a court of last resort to prosecute war crimes cases when a country’s judiciary is not capable of doing so.

“This court has become corrupted and is attempting to go after the young men and women of the United States of America who fought so hard, and they did so under the rule of law in the most civilized nation in the world, the United States of America,” Pompeo said in a May 29 interview with a podcast hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“And they’re now suggesting somehow that our ability to, when we have someone does something wrong, our ability to police that up is inadequate and they think that the ICC ought to be able to haul these young men and women in.”