The United States on Friday lifted sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump on officials of the International Criminal Court who are investigating the US and Israel for war crimes in Afghanistan and Palestine.
The executive action by President Joe Biden reverses one of the prior administration’s more aggressive moves to target international institutions, although Biden administration officials said the US still objects to the ICC assertion of jurisdiction over the US.
“We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed” through diplomacy “rather than through the imposition of sanctions”, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The ICC is a standing body based in The Hague created in 2002 to prosecute international claims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The US is not one of the roughly 120 member countries of the court.
“Our support for the rule of law, access to justice, and accountability for mass atrocities are important US national security interests that are protected and advanced by engaging with the rest of the world to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Blinken said.
The Trump White House had imposed economic and travel sanctions against court officials in June 2020 saying the ICC’s investigations of abuses in Afghanistan “are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty”.
Trump’s sanctions had targeted ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko, for pressing ahead with investigations into the US and Israel.
A spokesman for the ICC on Friday said the court and its governing body of the member states welcomed the US move.
Rights groups applauded Biden for throwing out Trump’s sanctions — Amnesty International called them an “act of vandalism” against international justice — but called for Biden to go further, by supporting the court’s work and making the US a member country.
Previous US President Bill Clinton had expressed deep reservations about the ICC while former President Barack Obama had engaged in limited cooperation with it.
Israel is not a member of the ICC and, along with the US, opposed Palestinian accession to the court in 2015 because it is not a state.
The ICC ruled in February is has jurisdiction over the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories opening the way for the ICC to investigate alleged war crimes committed in the 2014 Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the besieged Gaza Strip by both the Israeli army and Palestinian armed factions.