11 September 2018

US threatens sanctions against 'illegitimate' ICC

US national security adviser John Bolton slams ICC over Afghanistan report, IBA gives angry response.

By Dr David Cowan


The White House has stated the US will consider imposing sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges and prosecutors if the ICC opens an investigation into the actions of the US military and intelligence services in Afghanistan.

Alleged war crimes

The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC requested an investigation in November 2017 into alleged war crimes committed by the US in the war in Afghanistan since May 1, 2003, in addition to actions taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In addition to sanctions, the US will also consider seeking to have the ICC’s powers restricted by the UN Security Council and strengthen agreements that would prevent other nations from surrendering US nationals to the ICC. The US originally signed the Rome Statute that established the ICC in 2000, but the treaty was never ratified by Congress and the signature was withdrawn in May 2002 because the US found that the powers of the ICC were too broad and ‘posed a significant threat to United States sovereignty and our constitutional protections.’ In November 2016 the ICC released a report that stated that there was a ‘reasonable basis’ for further investigations into whether the US committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

'Illegitimate court'

National security adviser John Bolton told the Federalist Society in Washington DC, ‘the United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.’ Dr Mark Ellis, Executive Director at the International Bar Association, argued ‘the extraordinary attack launched by United States National Security Advisor John Bolton against the International Criminal Court (ICC) not only dismisses the principle of accountability for war crimes, but reinforces the Trump administration's repugnant policy of exceptionalism, whereby the US demands adherence to international law by all countries except itself. Bolton's bellicose suggestion that ICC judges and prosecutors could face prosecution in the US is a distressing extension of the Trump administration's attack on the judiciary - both domestic and now international.’

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