The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and one of her top aides for continuing to investigate Americans in connection with alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move on September 2, calling the ICC a “a thoroughly broken and corrupt institution” and saying the United States “will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction.”
Pompeo announced the sanctions against chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and head of jurisdiction Phakiso Mochochoko at a news conference at the State Department. The sanctions include a freeze on any assets they hold in the United States or assets subject to U.S. law.
The ICC in March gave Bensouda the go-ahead to investigate whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military, and U.S. forces.
Pompeo said people who provide Bensouda and Mochochoko with “material support” in investigating Americans could also face U.S. penalties.
The sanctions are the latest moves against the tribunal by the Trump administration for investigations into the United States and its allies.
The ICC, which the United States has never joined, said in a statement it stands by its employees and its mission and denounced the sanctions.
“I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organization,” said O-Gon Kwon, president of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties.
Pompeo had previously imposed a travel ban on Bensouda and other tribunal employees because of an ICC investigation into allegations of torture and other crimes by Americans in Afghanistan.
The sanctions announced on September 2 came nearly three months after President Donald Trump issued an executive order authorizing economic sanctions and travel restrictions against ICC officials who are directly involved in investigating U.S. troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.
The United States has not joined the ICC because of concerns the court might be used for politically motivated prosecutions of U.S. troops and officials. The U.S. Congress also opposes an international court interfering in U.S. sovereignty.
The United States is among dozens of countries that are not party to the treaty that established the ICC in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice.
Human rights groups and others have condemned the Trump administration’s moves against the court.
“Today’s announcement is designed to do what this administration does best — bully and intimidate,” said Daniel Balson of Amnesty International USA said on September 2. “It penalizes not only the ICC, but civil society actors working for justice alongside the court worldwide.”
He accused the United States of demanding the “a political carve-out of impunity” for Americans accused of crimes under international law in Afghanistan.
“No one responsible for the most serious crimes under international law should be able to hide from accountability, under a cloak of impunity,” he said.
Richard Dicker, the international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “a stunning perversion of U.S. 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,” he said.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP