International Criminal Court Investigators Face US Entry Bar

By MATTHEW LEE AP Diplomatic Writer

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the State Department on March 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States will revoke or deny visas to International Criminal Court personnel who attempt to investigate or prosecute alleged abuses committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere and may do the same with those who try to take action against Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

Pompeo, making good on a threat delivered last September by national security adviser John Bolton, said the U.S. had already moved against some employees of The Hague-based court, but declined to say how many or what cases they may have been investigating.

“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,” Pompeo said.

He said any wrongdoing committed by American personnel would be dealt with in U.S. military and criminal courts.

The visa restrictions would apply to any court employee who takes or has taken action “to request or further such an investigation,” Pompeo said.

“These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent,” he said.

The ICC prosecutor has a pending request to look into possible war crimes in Afghanistan that may involve Americans. The Palestinians have also asked the court to bring cases against Israel.

Speaking directly to ICC employees, Pompeo said: “If you are responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of U.S. personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you still have or will get a visa or will be permitted to enter the United States.”

That comment suggested that action may have already been taken against the ICC prosecutor who asked last year to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, as well as U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.

The United States has never been a member of the ICC. The Clinton administration in 2000 signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC but had reservations about the scope of the court’s jurisdiction and never submitted it for ratification to the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

When George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration promoted and passed the American Service Members Protection Act, which sought to immunize U.S. troops from potential prosecution by the ICC. In 2002, Bolton, then a State Department official, traveled to New York to ceremonially “unsign” the Rome Statute at the United Nations.

In September, Bolton said the ICC was a direct threat to U.S. national security interests and threatened its personnel with both visa revocations and financial sanctions should it try to move against Americans. Pompeo said Friday that more measures may come.

“We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions, if the ICC does not change its course,” he said, adding: “The first and highest obligation of our government is to protect its citizens and this administration will carry out that duty.”

The ICC did not immediately respond to Pompeo’s announcement, but said last year it was “undeterred” by Bolton’s threat. At the time it noted that it had been established by a treaty supported by 123 countries and said it prosecutes cases only when those countries failed to do so or did not do so “genuinely.” Afghanistan is a signatory.

Supporters of the court, the first global tribunal for war crimes, slammed Pompeo’s announcement.

Human Rights Watch called it “a thuggish attempt to penalize investigators” at the International Criminal Court.

“The Trump administration is trying an end run around accountability,” it said. “Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked.”

Since its creation, the court has filed charges against dozens of suspects including former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed by rebels before he could be arrested, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of charges including genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir remains at large, as does Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, who was among the first rebels charged by the court in 2005. The court has convicted just eight defendants.

The court has been hobbled by refusal of the U.S., Russia, China and other major nations to join. Others have quit, including Burundi and the Philippines.

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