Trump administration imposes sanctions on ICC prosecutor investigating alleged US war crimes in Afghanistan

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Wednesday against the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor and one of her top aides as the court continues to probe alleged war crimes committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Calling the ICC a “thoroughly broken and corrupted institution,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions against chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Sanctions are also being levied against Phakiso Mochochoko, the court’s head of jurisdiction, for “having materially assisted” Bensouda, Pompeo said.

“The United States has never ratified the Rome Statute that created the court, and we will not tolerate its illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction,” Pompeo said at a news conference.

The sanctions come after the Trump administration revoked Bensouda’s visa last year and President Trump signed an executive order earlier this year authorizing sanctions against ICC officials involved in the Afghanistan investigation.

The ICC condemned Wednesday’s sanctions as “another attempt to interfere with the court’s judicial and prosecutorial independence.”

“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,” the court said in a statement.

In 2017, Bensouda requested permission from the court to open a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, including allegations against U.S. troops, after having conducted a preliminary investigation since 2006. The court authorized her investigation in March.

The Trump administration has also railed against the ICC for its ongoing preliminary investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories, including Israel’s settlement policy.

The ICC, which sits in the Hague, was established to investigate issues such as war crimes and genocide. Under its founding Rome Statute, which the United States has not signed, the court is only supposed to intervene if a country is unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute.

Critics of the court in the United States say it threatens national sovereignty. Trump administration officials have also repeatedly accused the court of corruption and claimed the Afghanistan investigation is being manipulated by U.S. adversaries, but have not provided any evidence to back up their assertions.

Human rights organizations quickly lambasted Wednesday’s sanctions.

“The Trump administration’s decision to enact sanctions against senior ICC staff is another brazen attack against international justice,” Daniel Balson, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement.

“The court is made up of legal professionals who have dedicated their professional lives in pursuit of justice for victims and survivors of some of the most horrific crimes, including crimes against humanity. They should be commended for their commitment, not subjected to a punitive campaign of intimidation. Grotesquely, the White House’s actions may dissuade survivors of human rights abuses from demanding justice, and create a chilling effect on those who would support their efforts.”

Updated at 3:45 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Mike Pompeo

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