President Donald Trump has authorised economic sanctions and travel restrictions against International Criminal Court (ICC) workers involved in investigating US troops and intelligence officials, and those of allied nations – including Israel – for possible war crimes.
His executive order marked his administration’s latest attack against international organisations, treaties and agreements that do not conform to its policies.
It would block the financial assets of court employees and bar those employees and their immediate relatives from entering the United States.
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo denounced The Hague-based tribunal as a “kangaroo court” that has been unsuccessful and inefficient in its mandate to prosecute war crimes.
He said that the US would punish the ICC employees for any investigation or prosecution of Americans in Afghanistan and added that they could also be banned for prosecuting Israelis for alleged abuses against Palestinians.
Mr Pompeo’s comments were echoed by defence secretary Mark Esper, attorney general Wiliiam Barr and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who spoke at a State Department announcement of the new measures.
Mr Barr also announced that the US would investigate possible corruption within the ICC hierarchy that he said raised suspicions that Russia and other adversaries could be interfering in the investigatory process.
The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. It has 123 state parties that recognise its jurisdiction.
Human rights groups deplored the Trump administration’s move.
“The Trump administration’s latest action paves the way for imposing sanctions against ICC officials and demonstrates contempt for the global rule of law,” said Andrea Prasow, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch.
“This assault on the ICC is an effort to block victims of serious crimes whether in Afghanistan, Israel or Palestine, from seeing justice. Countries that support international justice should publicly oppose this blatant attempt at obstruction.”
The announcement is the latest action that puts the administration at odds with allies in Europe and elsewhere.
Since taking office, Mr Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and two arms control treaties with Russia.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 Organisation, threatened to leave the International Postal Union and announced an end to cooperation with the World Health Organisation.
Unlike those treaties and agreements, though, the United States has never been a member of the International Criminal Court. 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.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Mr Trump’s order “is a matter of serious concern”, describing the EU nations as “steadfast supporters of the International Criminal Court”.
“The court has been playing a key role in providing international justice and addressing the gravest international crimes,” he said. “It is a key factor in bringing justice and peace. It must be respected and supported by all nations.”