The Trump administration announced the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it pursues investigations against the U.S., Israel, or other allies. (Sept. 10)
WASHINGTON – White House National Security Adviser John Bolton unleashed a scathing attack Monday on the International Criminal Court, saying the Trump administration would sanction the court and ban its judges from the U.S. if it moves forward with a probe into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan.
“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton said in a speech Monday to the conservative Federalist Society. “The ICC is already dead to us.”
The ICC has long been controversial, with critics like Bolton suggesting it’s a threat to American sovereignty. Supporters say the international court, based in the Netherlands, offers recourse for victims of genocide and other war crimes in lawless countries.
The ICC was first envisioned in 1998 by the Rome Treaty as a tribunal that could prosecute genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. “As a court of last resort, it seeks to complement, not replace, national courts,” the ICC says on its website.
In his speech Monday, Bolton blasted the ICC as a “supranational tribunal” that claims “unfettered discretion to investigate, charge, and prosecute individuals, regardless of whether their countries have acceded to the Rome Statute.” The U.S. is not a signatory to the Rome agreement.
“In theory, the ICC holds perpetrators of the most egregious atrocities accountable for their crimes, provides justice to the victims, and deters future abuses,” Bolton told a receptive audience of Federal Society members. “In practice, however, the court has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous.”
Bolton said he made the announcement now because the Trump administration feared the ICC was about to take action in the Afghanistan matter.
Last November, the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, announced plans to seek a probe into allegations that the U.S. military and CIA personnel were involved in acts of torture in Afghanistan.
“In due course, I will file my request for judicial authorization to open an investigation, submitting that there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan,” she said at the time.
But Bolton cited another factor in his broadside against the ICC: a possible investigation of Israel, a key U.S. ally. The Palestinians asked the ICC in May to probe alleged human rights abuses by Israel.
“We will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self defense,” Bolton said Monday.
If the ICC tries to prosecute the U.S., Israel, or other allies, Bolton said the Trump administration would not only sanction the ICC but also any company or state that works with the court in such a probe. The U.S. could even cut off foreign aid to those countries, he said.
“We will remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels,” Bolton said.
In a related move, the Trump administration announced Monday it would shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington – a move that drew an immediate rebuke from Palestinian officials who said the White House is trying to bully them.
The State Department’s spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said the administration was closing the office because the PLO has not been a productive partner in efforts to achieve a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” Nauert said in a statement Monday. “To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.
“The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward,” she added. “This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement. We are not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement Monday that Monday’s announcement was “another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education.”
The Trump administration first threatened to close down the PLO’s office in Washington last fall but later backed off. The State Department’s decision to finalize that move will further inflame tensions between the U.S. and the Palestinians – coming on the heels of the Trump administration’s decision to nix funding for U.S. aid to the West Bank and Gaza and to freeze support for the United Nation’s program that supports Palestinian refugees.
“This dangerous escalation shows that the U.S. is willing to disband the international system in order to protect Israeli crimes and attacks against the land and people of Palestine as well as against peace and security in the rest of our region,” Erekat said Monday.
He said the Palestinians would “take the necessary measures to protect the rights of our citizens living in the United States to access their consular services.”
Human rights advocates and other critics said the twin moves would further undermine America’s global standing and cripple U.S. efforts to be seen as a legitimate peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The first casualty of this (ICC) decision is America’s credibility when it comes to international justice,” said Brett Bruen, who served as director of global engagement in the Obama administration. Bruen said Obama tried to balance concerns about the ICC, in terms of its impact on U.S. national security and sovereignty, with America’s role as a champion of rule of law around the world.
“What Bolton is essentially doing is taking one our most powerful deterrents and removing it from the equation, which will result in more gross human rights violations taking place in places like Venezuela and Myanmar,” Bruen said. “It will ultimately result in more American blood and treasure having to be spent to remove those who are committing these kinds of war crimes.”
Amnesty International also blasted the move and called on the U.S. to join the ICC as a full-fledged member.
“Rather than imposing sanctions, the United States should instead once and for all reaffirm its signature of the Rome Statute establishing the ICC, and support – not impede – its investigations,” said Adotei Akwei, deputy director of advocacy and Government Relations at Amnesty International USA.
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