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Trump imposes sanctions against ICC officials probing US and Israeli abuses

Decree freezes US assets of targeted International Criminal Court officials, bans them and their families from entering country
Trump with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley during visit to US base in Afghanistan last November (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

US President Donald Trump announced sanctions against International Criminal Court (ICC) officials investigating abuses by Americans and Israelis, stressing that the Hague-based tribunal has no "jurisdiction over personnel of the United States and certain of its allies".

An executive order signed by Trump on Thursday freezes any assets of targeted ICC investigators in the US and bans them and their immediate family members from entering the country. 

The decree does not mention Israel by name, but repeatedly states that the sanctions aim to protect US "allies" that are not party to the Rome Statute that established the court in 1998. 

Israel and the United States are two of the few countries that rejected the founding of the court, while 123 countries have agreed to its mandate. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made it clear later on Thursday that the executive order is also about Israel, saying that Washington is "gravely concerned" about the "threat" that the court poses to the US ally in the Middle East.

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"The ICC is already threatening Israel with an investigation of so-called war crimes committed by its forces and personnel in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip," Pompeo said in a brief statement. 

"Given Israel's robust civilian and military legal system and strong track record of investigating and prosecuting wrongdoing by military personnel, it's clear the ICC is only putting Israel in its crosshairs for nakedly political purposes. It's a mockery of justice."

Sanctions will be imposed on individual court officials on a case-to-case basis, Pompeo said.

Washington first imposed visa restrictions on ICC officials last March.

Blaming 'adversary nations'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US sanctions against the ICC, decrying the tribunal as a "kangaroo court".

"It’s obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights, while turning a blind eye to the world’s greatest abusers of human rights, including the terrorist regime in Iran," Netanyahu said.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Trump administration coordinated Thursday's decision with Israeli authorities.

On Thursday, US officials accused the court of corruption and incompetence, suggesting that Russia and China were behind the probes targeting American troops.

"We are concerned that adversary nations are manipulating the International Criminal Court by encouraging these allegations against United States personnel," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.

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Late last year, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced a full-scale investigation into Israeli violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

"I am satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine," Bensouda said in a statement in December.

"In brief, I am satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip."

A pre-trial report released in January said the investigation would focus on alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the 2014 war on Gaza, the transfer of Israeli civilians into the occupied West Bank and the shooting of protesters during the Great March of Return.

Israeli officials have strongly condemned the investigation, arguing that the Palestinian Authority's request for an international probe is void because Palestine is not a sovereign state.

'Dead to us'

The ICC is also investigating allegations of abuse by US troops and intelligence officials in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, Pompeo warned US allies against allowing the ICC to proceed with its probes.

"Your people could be next, especially those from Nato countries who fought terrorism in Afghanistan right alongside of us," he said.

Amnesty International denounced the US sanctions, saying that the executive order endangers NGOs, activists and government officials working to advance international justice.

"The Trump administration has a well-honed pattern of undermining and all-out assaults on multilateral institutions, rather than doing the sometimes difficult, but necessary work of joining them, sustaining them, and working to improve them," said Daniel Balson, advocacy director for Amnesty International USA.

"Today’s announcement is yet another assault on vital institutions that help people look after one another and provide survivors of rights abuses with justice."

The Trump administration has adopted a hostile position against the ICC and other international institutions for the past three years.

"We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We 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," then-National Security Adviser John Bolton said in 2018.

Recently, Trump withdrew the United States from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The US administration has also pulled out of the UN cultural agency UNESCO and the UN's Human Rights Council over what it called bias against Israel.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quick to condemn the US sanctions against the ICC on Thursday, describing the Trump administration as a "lawless gang".

"International Criminal COURT now blackmailed by lawless gang posing as diplomats," he wrote on Twitter.

"What else will it take for the global community to wake up & smell the consequences of appeasing the bully? And who else should the US terrorize before appeasers realize EVEN they might be next?"

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