THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The Trump administration announced Wednesday it is placing sanctions on the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, escalating its feud with the global judicial body investigating American military actions in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that the White House will sanction Fatou Bensouda, the prosecutor of the world’s only permanent court for atrocity crimes, as well as another staff member for their involvement in an investigation into whether U.S. military personnel committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
“Today we take the next step because the ICC continues to target Americans,” Pompeo said in a press conference Wednesday.
The Hague-based court authorized an investigation into war crimes during the conflict in Afghanistan earlier this year, writing “there is no reason to limit the prosecutor’s investigation.”
"These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the Court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law more generally," the court said in a statement on the sanctions.
Bensouda, born in The Gambia, wanted to look into whether the Taliban, the Afghan government and the United States armed forces committed war crimes during the ongoing conflict in the Middle Eastern country, as well as whether the CIA tortured secret “black site” detainees in Lithuania, Poland and Romania between 2003 and 2004.
The U.S. has never signed on to the Rome Statute, a 1998 treaty that four years later was used to establish the ICC to investigate alleged war crimes or cases referred to it by the United Nations Security Council. But Afghanistan did so in 2013 and a number of countries where the CIA black sites are located are also members of the court.
“Secretary of State Pompeo's announcement today 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,” Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June authorizing sanctions against ICC personnel involved in the Afghanistan investigation.
“It gives us no joy to punish them, but we cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop, travel and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms,” Pompeo said at the time.
The sanctions against Bensouda or Phakiso Mochochoko, the ICC’s head of jurisdiction, include a freeze on assets subject to American law. The pair are also barred from traveling to the U.S.
The Trump administration had previously revoked Bensouda’s visa for entering the U.S. after she requested the investigation.
The ICC’s pretrial chamber initially denied Bensouda’s request to open the investigation in 2019, in part because such an investigation would be hamstrung by “scarce cooperation obtained by the prosecutor.” The decision not to investigate drew widespread criticism from victims and human rights organizations who appealed the decision.
It is doubtful that the investigation would result in a trial. The U.S. is unlikely to extradite any American and a 2002 law, nicknamed the Hague Invasion Act, gives the president military force to remove any U.S. citizens detained by the ICC.Follow @mollyquell
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