The International Criminal Court says United States President Donald Trump’s decision to impose sanctions on court employees investigating alleged war crimes in Afghanistan is not only an attack on the court and the system of international criminal justice, but on the interests of the victims of atrocities.
“These are the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the ICC,” the Hague-based court said in a statement.
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“These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings,” said the ICC.
Trump signed an executive order on Thursday to block the financial assets of court employees and bar them and their immediate relatives from entering the US.
The administration accused the court, which the US has never recognised, of infringing on its sovereignty.
“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.
The ICC was established in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. Some 123 states from across the world recognise its jurisdiction.
In March, the ICC began an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan that could involve Americans – the first time the court’s prosecutor had been cleared to investigate US forces. The decision was made on appeal after judges initially rejected the request from chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, whose visa was revoked by the US in April 2019.
The case involves allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani Network fighters, as well as US forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.
Bensouda has said there is information that members of the US military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period”.
She has promised to carry out an independent and impartial investigation.
“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,” the ICC statement said.
While Trump’s move to impose sanctions has been welcomed in Israel, other countries have reacted with alarm.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles said Trump’s order was “a matter of serious concern” and he described EU members as “steadfast supporters” of the tribunal. Borrell Fontelles said the court was “a key factor in bringing justice and peace,” and that “it must be respected and supported by all nations.”
The United Nations has “taken note with concern” about reports of Trump’s order, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“What a painful process, watching a great & inspiring nation being turned into a rogue state by men with no sense of responsibility for their people, other nations & future generations,” Nils Melzer, the UN Special rapporteur on torture, wrote in a tweet. “History is replete of examples – must we REALLY go through this again?”
The American Civil Liberties Union suggested it might seek legal recourse and said the order was “a dangerous display of [Trump’s] contempt for human rights and those working to uphold them”.
The ICC said it welcomed a statement from the 10 ICC states that were members of the UN Security Council – a statement in which they had reconfirmed their “unwavering support for the Court as an independent and judicial institution”.