ICC ‘undeterred’ after US sanctions threat

The International Criminal Court on Tuesday said its work would continue “undeterred” after Washington threatened to prosecute its judges if Americans are charged with war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

France and Germany also weighed in to support the Hague-based court after White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said the ICC was “already dead to us”.

“The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its work undeterred, in accordance with those principles and the overarching idea of the rule of law,” the tribunal said in a statement.

In a further show of support, the Hague-based court’s overseeing body said it received “strong cooperation and backing” from its 123 member states as well as from other states, international organisations and civil society.

Key states spoke up to defend the ICC, set up in 2002 with jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute the world’s worst crimes including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“France, with its European partners, supports the ICC, both in its financial support and with its cooperation,” the French foreign ministry said

“The court must be able to act and exercise its prerogatives unhindered, in an independent and impartial manner.”

Germany’s foreign ministry said on Twitter that “we are committed to the work of the ICC — in particular when it comes under fire”.

‘Dead to us’

Bolton, US President Donald Trump’s hardline national security aide, on Monday threatened to arrest and sanction court officials should they move to charge any American who served in Afghanistan with war crimes.

He called the ICC “unaccountable” and “outright dangerous” to the United States, Israel and other allies, and said any probe of US service members would be “an utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation”.


READ MORE: US threatens to arrest ICC judges who probe war crimes

He also cited a recent move by Palestinian leaders to have Israeli officials prosecuted at the ICC for human rights violations.

“If the court comes after us, Israel or other US allies, we will not sit quietly,” Bolton said.

The US was prepared to slap financial sanctions and criminal charges on officials of the court if they proceed against any Americans, he added.

“We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC and we certainly will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

‘Gravest crimes’

But in response, the ICC declared itself an “independent and impartial judicial institution”.

It also stressed that it would only investigate and prosecute crimes “when the States concerned fail to do so at all or genuinely.”

In a separate statement, the court’s overseeing body, the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) also pointed out that the ICC “recognises the primary jurisdiction of States to investigate and prosecute atrocity crimes”.

But its president O-Gon Kwon added that the ASP “remains committed to uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute, including in particular the judicial independence of the court”.

He said the court was “crucial for ensuring accountability for the gravest crimes under international law”.

READ MORE: A plan for South Africa to stay in the ICC

The court can investigate prosecute serious crimes but does not have the capacity to arrest suspects and depends on member states for their cooperation.

The United States has not signed up to the court and in 2002 Congress passed a law technically enabling Washington to invade the Netherlands to liberate any US citizen, should they be held by the court.

Most of its cases have involved crimes in Africa, a point Bolton seized on when he said that “despite ongoing ICC investigations, atrocities continue to occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Libya, Syria, and many other nations”.

© Agence France-Presse

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Jan Hennop
Jan Hennop
AFP correspondent -- The Netherlands
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