The current president Joe Biden wants a new stage in the relationship with international organizations.
This Friday the president of the United States, Joe Biden, withdrew the sanctions that his predecessor in office (Donald Trump) had imposed against the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging a more collaborative link with this court after a dispute that alienated him from his allies.
In a move that angered America’s European partners, Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last year denounced the ICC as an “unauthorized court,” and imposed both financial sanctions and a visa ban on his chief executive. prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
Pompeo took those steps after Bensouda launched an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US military personnel in Afghanistan.
The Hague-based court further irritated the United States by opening an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories committed by Israel, a US ally that does not recognize the authority of the ICC.
Biden said the United States still has concerns regarding the ICC.
But “the threat and imposition of financial sanctions against the court, its staff and those who assist it, do not constitute an effective or appropriate strategy,” said the president in a statement.
Pompeo’s successor, Antony Blinken, said in turn that the United States remains “in total disagreement” with the steps taken by the ICC in relation to Afghanistan and Israel.
“We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed by involving all stakeholders in the ICC process rather than by imposing sanctions,” stated Blinken.
Democrat Biden revoked a decree by Republican Trump on sanctions imposed in September 2020, which also lifted punitive measures against the head of the Division of Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation of the Prosecutor’s Office, Phakiso Mochochoko.
In addition, the State Department ended several visa restrictions decided in 2019 against ICC staff members.
The Gambian-born prosecutor will step down in June, to be replaced by British human rights lawyer Karim Khan.
A new stage
Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, director of the Association of States Parties to the ICC, expressed her hope that the decision “marks the beginning of a new phase in our common commitment to fight impunity” for war crimes.
France, which like other European allies had been appalled by Trump’s move, welcomed the change of course and pledged to support the ICC.
“This is excellent news for all those who are committed to the fight against impunity, to multilateralism and to an international order based on the rule of law,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Blinken positively highlighted the reforms the ICC is carrying out, also under scrutiny on some internal issues, including judges’ salaries.
The United States, which signed but did not ratify the 1998 Rome Statute that established the ICC, supported specific international judicial initiatives to hold accountable those who committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, including cases in the Balkans, Cambodia and Rwanda.
“Our support for the rule of law, access to justice, and holding those responsible for mass atrocities accountable are important national security interests for the United States,” said Blinken.
The head of US diplomacy announced the end of sanctions on ICC staff, days before the government had to respond to a lawsuit against Trump’s decree filed by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a group that promotes human rights and democracy.
James Goldston, executive director of the initiative, hailed Biden’s decision as a “restoration of American ideals.”
“The United States has a long history of using sanctions to punish human rights violators, but never before has this tool been used to punish an independent court seeking justice for atrocity victims,” he said.
Human rights NGO Human Rights Watch praised Biden for ending “this unprecedented and totally warped use of sanctions” and for turning the page on “Trump’s assault on the global rule of law.”
Trump, in his final weeks in office, pardoned three US soldiers convicted of crimes in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to his critics, this undermined the Trump administration’s own argument in sanctioning the ICC: that the United States had its own judiciary capable of ensuring accountability.
Democratic governments have been more supportive of the ICC, but the United States remains not a party to the Rome Statute and intense opposition from Republicans makes it unlikely that it will join.
The US Congress even passed a law in 2002 authorizing the use of military force to free any American held by the ICC, which theoretically gives the president authority to invade the Netherlands, an ally in NATO. (I)