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U.S. Sanctions Two International Criminal Court Prosecutors Investigating U.S. Officials

by Derek Gilna

U.S. sanctions have been imposed on two officials in the International Criminal Court(ICC”) following the ICC’s 2019 decision to reopen an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan.

On September 2, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sanctioned Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, and Phakiso Mochochoko, the ICC’s director of jurisdiction, complementary, and cooperation division.

According to Pompeo, the pair were to be denied entry visas as a result of investigations of U.S. intelligence and military personnel accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.

The ICC, currently headquartered in the Hague, Netherlands, was established in 2002. It is recognized and financially supported by 123 nations, including most South American, African, European, and some Asian countries, but not the U.S., China, or Russia. It has brought charges against various officials, mostly in Africa, for “crimes against humanity,” and had previously been criticized by both Pompeo and U.S. President Donald Trump, who in June 2020 had issued an executive order that had outlined general sanctions against the ICC without specifically naming anyone.

The most recent order affects individuals who “have directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States” or a U.S. ally. Pompeo also said, “Individuals and entities that continue to materially support those individuals risk exposure to sanctions as well, (and) the State Department has restricted the issuance of visas for certain individuals involved in the ICC’s efforts to investigate U.S. personnel.” Bensouda had also started investigations of the Taliban and Israel for alleged war crimes.

The ICC responded to the sanctions, stating, “These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the Court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law more generally.”

O-Gon Kwon, president of the Assembly of States Parties, which oversees ICC operations, said the sanctions, “only serve to weaken our common endeavor to fight impunity for mass atrocities ...We stand by our Court and its staff as well as those cooperating with it in implementing its judicial mandate. A meeting of the ... Assembly will take place shortly to consider the measures imposed by the United States and ways to give effect to our unstinting support for the Court.”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany stated: “The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty. As the President’s Executive Order makes clear, the United States will continue to use any means necessary to protect our citizens and our allies from unjust prosecution by the International Criminal Court,” she said.



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