These high-quality twists include rejoining Paris Agreement on Climate Change and ends “Muslim ban”. But one of the most controversial decisions on Trump’s sanctions remains firmly in place: the use of measures typically reserved for dictators and terrorists against International Criminal Court (ICC) staff.
More than a month after Biden’s inauguration, number of human rights organizations asked to know: What is detention? The role of sanctions was greatly eased on Wednesday, when the ICC announced an investigation into war crimes in Israel and the Palestinian territories, citing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. to accuse a court of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism.
The court has been quiet since Biden took office, hoping to give the new administration time to get things in order. But in a statement to Today’s WorldView this week, prosecutor Fatou Bensouda publicly stated that it was time to “reset” with the United States and called on the Biden administration to lift all sanctions and constructively liaise with the court.
“These measures are usually designed and implemented against gross human rights violators[,] not legal professionals and international civil servants fighting impunity for crime crimes, ”said Bensouda, a Gambian lawyer who saw bank accounts frozen and relatives’ property temporarily blocked after the Trump administration. announced sanctions in September last year.
In a statement in response to a request for comment, a State Department spokesman said, “Management is thoroughly reviewing sanctions in accordance with Executive Order 13928 as we determine our next steps,” citing the order which Trump signed on June 11th which later led to sanctions, but did not offer more details about the review that was first published in late January.
Mark Kersten, founder of the international legal group The Wayamo Foundation, said the US government’s position was “absurd, because honestly, what is there to consider?”
Even before Trump, the ICC had a complex relationship with Washington. The ICC’s position as a court of last resort when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute major crimes has made it a thunderbolt for controversy. The United States has never ratified the Rome Statute, which led to the establishment of the court in The Hague in 2002, and has not accepted the jurisdiction of the court.
This difference brings the United States into conflict with many of its allies. Most countries in Europe, North America, Latin America and much of Africa are among the 123 supporters of the court. But while both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have kept their distance, none have taken such an aggressive stance as the Trump administration. In 2018, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, a longtime a court critic said that“For all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”
In 2019, the United States imposed it travel ban for ICC staff. The following year, after a court launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan – the first investigation he opened that could involve U.S. troops – the Trump administration warned the ICC, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called him “an apostate, an illegal so-called court.”
Just over three months later, Trump signed an executive order approving new sanctions against those related to the court. Sanctions against Bensouda and another member of the ICC prosecution, Lesotho diplomat Phakiso Mochochoko, took effect in September. Many human rights groups and foreign governments have condemned the move.
Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, tweeted that she was “speechless” after Trump signed the order. “Sanctions against ICC Prosecutor ??”
After Trump lost last year’s presidential election, Biden was generally expected to reverse actions against the ICC. “A lot of people follow that,” said Adam Smith, a partner at law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who worked on sanctions at the U.S. Treasury during the Obama administration. Lifting sanctions on Bensoudi and other ICC staff could be as simple as lifting the executive order that set them, he explained.
Since Biden took office, his administration has committed to international human rights standards. In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the United States she would seek a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council the following year, reversing another move from the Trump era against another divided supranational body.
Without any complete explanation from the US government, it remains unclear why sanctions against ICC officials remain in place.
Axios reported last month that Israeli Netanyahu asked Biden to maintain sanctions. After the court announced an investigation into Israel and the Palestinian territories, Netanyahu struck the court again, calling it “Undiluted anti-Semitism and the pinnacle of hypocrisy”; Blinken tweeted a few hours later that the United States “strongly opposes” the ICC investigation.
However, the problems between the ICC and the United States go beyond Israel. Some critics, such as U.S. National Security Attorney John B. Bellinger III, have argued that both sides need de-escalation with the ICC step back from action which could have ties to U.S. officials. But supporters of the court, including Kersten, argue that Biden has a similar approach to international justice as Obama – which he described as “selective engagement and decent hypocrisy.”
“Without a doubt, he is much better than Trump, but he also leaves a lot to be desired,” Kersten said.
In her statement, Bensouda said the United States had been a major part of the international justice movement in the past, returning to the Nuremberg trials, and said she hoped for a new era of co-operation with the United States. “We expect the new US administration to engage constructively and recognize our legitimate duties under the Rome Statute,” she said.
The court may have reason to feel confident. Although still under sanctions, Bensouda will soon leave his post at the ICC. British lawyer Karim Khan will replace her as ICC prosecutor on June 16 – around the time the Biden administration will have to reconsider the executive order imposing sanctions on Bensoud, according to Smith.
Khan is not under sanctions and so far the court has refused to give up even the investigation of Israel or Afghanistan. As Bensouda said, “coercive measures against the ICC have failed to achieve the stated policy goals.” So why keep them in place?