Biden lifts US sanctions on ICC officials imposed by Trump

US President Joe Biden on Friday lifted the sanctions imposed by Donald Trump on two top officials of the International Criminal Court, and regretted one of the previous government’s more aggressive measures against international institutions and officials.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed in a statement that the US still strongly disagreed with certain actions of the court, a standing body based in The Hague in the Netherlands that is accused of dealing with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The United States is not one of the Court’s approximately 120 member states.

“However, we believe that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed” through diplomacy “rather than through the imposition of sanctions,” Blinken wrote.

The abolition of sanctions was the latest signal that the Biden administration intends to return to the multilateral week. The Trump administration had unapologetically removed the United States from many international institutions and agreements and harshly criticized others, including the ICC, and considered them deficient and working against American interests.

Since Biden took office, his administration has rejoined the World Health Organization, reunited with the UN Human Rights Council, returned to the Paris climate agreement and on Friday began talks aimed at returning to Iran’s nuclear deal. Trump had withdrawn from all five.

The court was created to hold perpetrators responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in cases where adequate legal systems were not available. The United States has not joined the ICC, which began operations in 2002 after enough countries ratified the treaty that created it, due to concerns, the court could be used for politically motivated prosecutions against US troops and officials.

Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, chair of the Court’s governing body for member states, said the United States’ abolition of sanctions was helpful in promoting “a rules-based international order.” She noted that the court and its managing states are currently studying the court’s procedures to improve their work, which gives rise to responsibility for the worst crimes of international interest.

“Vandalism”

The EU expressed its satisfaction with Biden’s move on Saturday. “This important step underlines the United States’ commitment to the international regulatory system,” said European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell in a statement.

“The ICC plays an important role in providing justice to the victims of some of the world’s most horrific crimes. Protecting the ICC’s impartiality and legal independence is crucial to its effectiveness and functioning.”

The EU is “unwavering in its support” of the Court and the “universality” of the Rome Statute that founded the Court, Borrell continued.

Rights groups on Friday applauded Biden for throwing out Trump’s sanctions – Amnesty International called them “vandalism” against international justice – but urged Biden to go further by supporting the work of the court and making the United States a member state.

The US sanctions had targeted ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s chief of staff, Phakiso Mochochoko, to pursue investigations into the United States and its allies, particularly Israel, for alleged war crimes. Two sets of sanctions were imposed, the first was a travel ban on Bensouda in March 2019, and since 18 months later, all assets that she and Mochochoko may have in the United States or US jurisdictions have been frozen. The second round also gave the couple “material support” for a potential sanction violation.

Both sanctions had been condemned round by the ICC itself, as well as a number of court members and human rights groups. When former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo introduced the economic sanctions in September 2020, he attacked the court as “a completely broken and corrupt institution” and said “we will not tolerate its illegal attempts to subject the Americans to its jurisdiction.”

US Presidents since Bill Clinton have expressed deep reservations about the court, although some, including President Barack Obama, agreed to limited cooperation with it.

However, the Trump administration was openly hostile to the tribunal, cracking down on Bensouda and others for prosecuting Americans for actions in Afghanistan and Israelis for actions against the Palestinians. Israel is not a member of the ICC and, together with the United States, rejects Palestinian membership because it is not a state.

Blinken said that the US sees responsibility for atrocities as a national security interest and pointed to the US support for other, often temporary courts globally.

( Jowharwith AP and AFP)