ICC member states rally round court in the face of US action
More than half of the member states of the International Criminal Court – including 13 from Africa – have come out in support of the Court in response to new US sanctions against the institution.
On June 11, in retaliation for the ICC proceeding with investigations into war crimes committed in Afghanistan by all forces, including those from the US, Washington imposed visa restrictions on families of ICC officials, who are already under American government sanctions.
The US Attorney General, William Barr, also announced that the Trump administration was launching an investigation into alleged corruption at the Court.
On Tuesday, a cross-regional group of 67 ICC member countries, out of 123, responded in a joint statement, which said: “We remain committed to an international rules-based order.
“The ICC is an integral part of this order and a central institution in the fight against impunity and the pursuit of justice, which are essential components of sustainable peace, security and reconciliation.
“We will therefore continue to respect our cooperation obligations under the Rome Statute and we call on all states to ensure full cooperation with the Court for it to carry out its important mandate of ensuring justice for the victims of the most serious crimes of international concern.”
The US, which is not a party to the Court’s Rome Statute, objects to the ICC’s jurisdiction over nationals of non-member countries without a referral to the Court by the UN Security Council.
Afghanistan, however, is an ICC member country, giving the Court authority to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by anyone – regardless of nationality – on Afghan territory.
Human Rights Watch pointed out: “The court’s authority is nothing unusual.
“US and other citizens who commit crimes abroad are already subject to the jurisdiction of foreign courts.”
The joint statement by the ICC group noted: “…the ICC is a court of last resort, which anchors a system of justice for serious international crimes rooted in national courts.
“National authorities have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute Rome Statute crimes.
“The ICC only steps in when states are unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out national proceedings.”
The statement added: “By giving our full support to the ICC and promoting its universal reach, we defend the progress we have made together towards an international rules-based order, of which international justice is an indispensable pillar.”
Richard Dicker, International Justice Director at human Rights Watch, said: “ICC member countries, including many key US allies, are speaking out for the international court in the face of the Trump administration’s effective extortion.
“Their statement sends a strong message that governments have the Court’s back and will not bow to Washington’s misguided pressure.”
He added: “Multilateral support for the ICC is key to deterring the chilling effect of the Trump administration’s outrageous effort to undermine justice for victims.
“Member countries will need sustained vigilance and to be ready to take further steps to push back against US bullying of the Court.”
The US sanctions, which include assets freeze, can be applied on a “case-by-case basis” in relation to ICC investigations of US personnel or personnel of US allies.
However, Mr Dicker said: “Asset freezes and travel bans are for human rights violators, not those seeking to bring rights violators to justice.
“By targeting the ICC, the Trump administration continues its assault on the global rule of law, putting the US on the side of those who commit and cover up grave abuses, not those who prosecute them.”
The ICC had earlier reacted to the US action through a statement, which said: “These are the latest in a series of unprecedented attacks on the ICC, an independent international judicial institution, as well as on the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, which reflects the commitment and cooperation of the ICC’s 123 States Parties, representing all regions of the world,” the statement said
“These attacks constitute an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings.
“They are announced with the declared aim of influencing the actions of ICC officials in the context of the Court’s independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings.
“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 statement added.
The President of the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), O-Gon Kwon, also reacted to the measures announced by the US.
“These measures are unprecedented [and] they undermine our common endeavour to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities,” he said.
The African ICC members that agreed to the statement are: Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, The Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Nigeria Namibia, South Africa, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Uganda.
US allies that also endorsed the statement include Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, New Zealand and the UK.