International Criminal Court rejects US sanctions move

Photo: AP Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the US move against the Hague-based tribuna.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday hit back at a decision by US President Donald Trump to authorise sanctions against any official investigating American troops over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

"These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court's judicial proceedings," the court said in a statement.

President Donald Trump earlier on Thursday authorised US economic and travel sanctions against International Criminal Court employees involved in an investigation into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan. In announcing the president's executive order, Trump administration officials said the Hague-based tribunal threatens to infringe on US national sovereignty and accused Russia of manipulating it to serve Moscow's ends.

"We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the move. "I have a message to many close allies in the world. Your people could be next, especially those from NATO countries who fight terrorism in Afghanistan right alongside us," he said.

The sanctions that can be imposed under the order include freezing the US assets of those who help the ICC investigate or prosecute American citizens without US consent, as well as barring them and their families from visiting the United States.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by the Taliban, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and, to a lesser extent, by US forces and the CIA. The ICC investigation was given the go-ahead in March. The ICC decided to investigate after a preliminary examination by prosecutors in 2017 found reasonable grounds to believe war crimes were committed in Afghanistan and that the court has jurisdiction.

ICC said the "unprecedented" sanctions "undermine our common endeavour to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities". The court added: "An attack on the ICC also represents an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice.

In announcing the president’s executive order, Trump administration officials said the Hague-based tribunal threatens to infringe on US national sovereignty and accused Russia of manipulating it to serve Moscow’s ends.

“We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in announcing the move. “I have a message to many close allies in the world. Your people could be next, especially those from NATO countries who fight terrorism in Afghanistan right alongside us,” he said.

Foreign Minister Stef Blok of the Netherlands, a member of the Western security alliance, wrote on Twitter he was “very disturbed” by the US stance, saying his nation supported the ICC, which he described as “crucial in the fight against impunity.”

Neither Pompeo nor any of the top officials who were present at the announcement - Defense Secretary Mark Esper, national security adviser Robert O’Brien and Attorney General William Barr - took questions from reporters.

Rights activists assailed Trump’s move. Andrea Prasow, the Washington director for Human Rights Watch, said the action “demonstrates contempt for the global rule of law” and represents a “blatant attempt at obstruction.”

The ICC was established in 2002 by the international community to prosecute war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. It has jurisdiction only if a member state is unable or unwilling to prosecute atrocities itself. The United States has never been a member of the court.

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