The US government on Friday suspended sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump’s administration on an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor, signaling a more collaborative relationship.
In a move that angered European partners in the United States, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year denounced the ICC as an “unauthorized tribunal” and imposed both financial sanctions and a ban visa to its chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
Pompeo took the action after Bensouda opened an investigation into possible war crimes committed by the US military in Afghanistan. The Hague-based tribunal further infuriated the United States by opening an investigation into Israel’s alleged Palestinian war crimes in the Palestinian territories – an American assessment that rejects the authority of the ICC.
Pompeo’s successor Antony Blinken said the United States remained “in total disagreement” with the measures taken by the ICC in Afghanistan and Israel, but viewed the Trump administration’s measures as “inappropriate and ineffective.”
“We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed through the participation of all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than through the imposition of sanctions,” Blinken said in a statement.
Biden revoked a Trump executive order on sanctions imposed in September 2020, which also suspended punitive measures against the head of the Prosecutor’s Competence, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko.
In addition, the State Department has ended several visa restrictions imposed in 2019 on members of the tribunal. Gambia-born prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will resign in June and be replaced by British human rights lawyer Karim Khan.
Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, director of the Association of States Parties to the ICC, expressed hope that this decision “marks the beginning of a new phase in our common commitment to fight impunity” for war crimes.
France, which like other European allies had been appalled by Trump’s move, welcomed the change of course and pledged to help the ICC. “This is excellent news for all those engaged in the fight against impunity, multilateralism and an international order based on the rule of law,” said French Chancellor Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Blinken positively highlighted the reforms carried out by the ICC, which is also under scrutiny on some internal issues, including judges’ salaries. The United States, which signed but not ratified the Rome Statute, which created the ICC in 1998, has supported international judicial initiatives aimed at holding those who have committed war crimes or crimes against Israel to account. humanity, including those of the Balkans, Cambodia and Rwanda.
The U.S. diplomat announced the end of sanctions against ICC officials two days before the government is due to respond to action against Trump’s executive order, filed by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a group that promotes human rights and democracy.
James Goldston, executive director of the initiative, hailed Biden’s decision as a “restoration of American ideals.” “The United States has a long history of using sanctions to punish human rights violators, but never before has this tool been used to punish an independent tribunal seeking justice for victims of atrocities,” he said. .
Human rights NGO Human Rights Watch praised Biden for ending “this unprecedented and utterly distorted use of sanctions” and turned the page on “Trump’s attack on the global rule of law.” During his last weeks in office, the Republican pardoned three American soldiers convicted of crimes committed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Democratic governments have been more pro-ICC, but the United States remains outside the Rome Statute, and intense opposition from Republicans rules out the possibility of the country joining it. In 2002, the US Congress even passed a law authorizing the use of military force to free any American from the hands of the ICC, which theoretically gives the president the power to invade the Netherlands, NATO allies.