The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and one of her top aides for continuing to investigate war crimes allegations against Americans.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the moves as part of the administration’s pushback against the tribunal, based in The Hague, for investigations into the United States and its allies such as Israel. The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the US or subject to US law, and target prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko.
Pompeo had previously imposed a travel ban on Bensouda and other tribunal employees because of its investigation into allegations of torture and other crimes by Americans in Afghanistan.
“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 during a press conference at the State Department.
Human rights groups and others have condemned the administration’s moves against the court and Wednesday’s announcement was immediately met with withering criticism from them.
Richard Dicker, the international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it “a stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalize rights abusers and kleptocrats, to persecute those tasked with prosecuting international crimes.”
“The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice,” he said.
In March 2019, Pompeo ordered the revocation or denial of visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate allegations of war crimes and other abuses by US forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere. He also said he might revoke the visas of those who seek action against Israel.
Bensouda announced in December there was a “reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed” in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem by both the Israel Defense Forces and terrorist group Hamas, as well as other “Palestinian armed groups.” However, she kicked the question of jurisdiction to the judges, delaying the case until they can rule.
A three-judge panel at the ICC is expected to soon rule whether the court has jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories and can launch an investigation into alleged war crimes.
Israel has long argued that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the case, as there is no sovereign Palestinian state that could delegate to the court criminal jurisdiction over its territory and nationals.