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US said set to remove sanctions from ICC chief prosecutor, imposed under Trump

Though new leadership in DC remains critical of the court, which is set to investigate Israel and Hamas for war crimes, it also wants to break with Trump administration’s actions

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda waits for former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to enter the court room of the International Criminal Court to stand trial with Aime Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidele Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido, on charges including corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony, and presenting false evidence, in The Hague, Netherlands, September 29, 2015. (AP/Peter Dejong/File)
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda waits for former Congo vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba to enter the court room of the International Criminal Court to stand trial with Aime Kilolo Musamba, Jean-Jacques Mangenda Kabongo, Fidele Babala Wandu and Narcisse Arido, on charges including corruptly influencing witnesses by giving them money and instructions to provide false testimony, and presenting false evidence, in The Hague, Netherlands, September 29, 2015. (AP/Peter Dejong/File)

The Biden administration will in the coming days remove sanctions on officials at the International Criminal Court that the previous administration imposed, according to a report Wednesday night.

Citing two officials with knowledge of the matter, Foreign Policy said the move to remove sanctions from ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and a top aide could happen this week or next — though Washington remains highly critical of the court’s actions.

In 2019, then US president Donald Trump imposed economic sanctions and visa travel restrictions against Bensouda and an aide due to its ongoing probe into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan by Afghan forces, the Taliban as well as the American military.

The Biden administration has sought to distance itself from the policies of the previous administration and wants to ease tensions with European governments and with human rights organizations over the restrictions, according to the report.

US President Joe Biden at Emory University in Atlanta, March 19, 2021. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

A spokesperson for the State Department said: “Much as we disagree with the ICC’s actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian Situations, the administration is thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps.”

Last month the administration said it “firmly” opposes the ICC’s recent decision to open an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, but was still weighing whether to maintain sanctions against the body imposed by Trump.

Ned Price insisted that the ICC does not have jurisdiction over the matter as Israel is not party to the Rome Statute that established the court.

The ICC has sent formal notices to Israel and the Palestinian Authority about its impending investigation into possible war crimes, giving them a few weeks to seek deferral by proving they are carrying out their own investigations.

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands, November 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Bensouda announced on March 3 that she was opening an investigation into actions committed by Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 2014. The announcement of the investigation came less than a month after the court ruled it had the jurisdiction to open a probe. A preliminary investigation to settle the justiciability question took more than five years.

The ICC announced it would investigate possible war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinians following a request by the Palestinians, who joined the court in 2015 after being granted nonmember observer status in the UN General Assembly.

Israel has fiercely condemned the investigation, accusing the ICC of bias, noting that it is demonstrably capable of investigating any alleged IDF crimes through its own legal hierarchies, and saying the ICC has no jurisdiction since the Palestinians do not have a state. Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens could be subject to arrest abroad if warrants are issued.

The ICC probe is expected to focus on three main areas: the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas; Israeli settlement policy; and the 2018 Great March of Return protests, a series of violent demonstrations along Gaza’s border with Israel that left dozens of Palestinians dead.

The probe will also look at terrorist rocket fire from Gaza onto civilian areas in Israel.

Bensouda is to be replaced as prosecutor in June by British lawmaker Karim Khan. Israel is said to hope Khan may be less hostile or even cancel the probe.

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