More than half of war crimes court's members back tribunal

FILE- In this Nov. 7, 2019 file photo, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, is seen in The Hague, Netherlands. President Donald Trump has lobbed a broadside attack against the International Criminal Court. He's authorizing economic sanctions and travel restrictions against court workers directly involved in investigating American troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan without U.S. consent. The executive order Trump signed on Thursday marks his administrations latest attack against international organizations, treaties and agreements that do not hew to its policies. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File) (Peter Dejong, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

THE HAGUE – More than half of the member states of the International Criminal Court voiced their support for the institution in a strongly worded statement issued Tuesday in response to the Trump administration’s decision to authorize sanctions against court staff.

The 67 nations, including such U.S. allies as Australia, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, said in the joint statement that they were reconfirming “our unwavering support for the Court as an independent and impartial judicial institution.”

The participating countries also reiterated their commitment to preserving the court's integrity “undeterred by any measures or threats against the Court, its officials and those cooperating with it.”

On June 11, President Donald Trump authorized economic and travel sanctions against International Criminal Court workers who were investigating troops and intelligence officials from the United States and allied nations, including Israel, for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes of humanity and genocide in countries where authorities cannot or will not bring perpetrators to justice. The U.S. has never been an ICC member.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the pledge of support from other member states.

“This statement is highly significant because ICC member states globally, including key .U.S allies, are speaking up in defense of the court and its independence” Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said. “It sends the crucial message that ICC states ‘have the court’s back’ and they will not be cowed in their commitment to seeing justice for crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the tribunal as a “kangaroo court” that has been unsuccessful and inefficient in its mandate to prosecute war crimes. He said the U.S. would punish the ICC employees for any investigation or prosecution of Americans in Afghanistan. The court personnel could also be banned from the U.S. for prosecuting Israelis for alleged abuses against Palestinians, he said.

“It gives us no joy to punish them,” Pompeo said. “But we cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop and travel and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms.”

Last year, Pompeo revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, after she asked ICC judges to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The judges initially rejected the request, but Bensouda appealed and the court authorized the investigation in March.

That ruling marked the first time the court’s prosecutor was cleared to investigate U.S. forces. The case involves allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, as well as by U.S. forces and intelligence officials in Afghanistan since May 2003.

Bensouda has said there is information that members of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence.”

The 67 nations that signed off on Tuesday’s statement called the court “an essential component of the multilateral architecture upholding the rule-of-law. It embodies our collective commitment to fight impunity for international crimes.”

They said that by giving the court their full backing, “we defend the progress we have made together towards an international rules-based order, of which international justice is an indispensable pillar.”