President Joe Biden lifted sanctions that Donald Trump had imposed on two senior officials at the International Criminal Court on Friday, overturning one of the previous administration’s most aggressive measures targeting international institutions and officials.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed in a statement that the United States still strongly disagrees with certain actions of the Court, which is a permanent body based in The Hague in the Netherlands charged with handling genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The United States is not among the approximately 120 member countries of the Court.
“We believe, however, that our concerns about these cases would be better addressed ‘through diplomacy’ rather than the imposition of sanctions,” Blinken wrote.
The removal of sanctions was the latest signal that the Biden administration intended to return to the multilateral fold. The Trump administration had shamelessly excluded the United States from many international institutions and agreements and severely criticized others, including the ICC, deeming them flawed and against American interests.
Since Biden took office, his administration has joined the World Health Organization, re-engaged with the UN Human Rights Council, reverted to the Paris climate accord and on Friday began talks to revert to the Iran nuclear deal. Trump had withdrawn from the five.
The tribunal was created to hold perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable in cases where adequate justice 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 fears that the court could be used for politically motivated prosecutions. against American troops and officials.
Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, president of the Court’s Member States’ Management Body, said the removal of sanctions by the United States was useful in promoting “a rules-based international order”. She noted that the court and its ruling states are currently reviewing the tribunal’s procedures to improve its work of accountability in the worst crimes of international concern.
Rights groups on Friday applauded Biden for rejecting Trump’s sanctions – Amnesty International called them an “act of vandalism” against international justice – but called on Biden to go further, supporting the work of the Court and making the United States a member country.
The US sanctions targeted ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court’s head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko, for continuing to investigate the United States and its allies, including Israel, for alleged war crimes. Two rounds of sanctions were imposed, the first being a travel ban to Bensouda in March 2019, and then 18 months later a freeze on any assets she and Mochochoko might hold in the United States or in American jurisdictions. The second round also made giving the pair “material support” a potentially punishable offense.
Both rounds of sanctions have been bluntly denounced by the ICC itself as well as by a number of members of the court and human rights groups. When former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed the financial sanctions in September 2020, he attacked the Court as “a completely broken and corrupt institution” and said: “We will not tolerate his illegitimate attempts to subject Americans to its jurisdiction “.
US Presidents since Bill Clinton have expressed deep reservations about the court, although some, including President Barack Obama, have agreed to limited cooperation with it.
The Trump administration, however, was openly hostile to the tribunal and lashed out at Bensouda and others for suing the Americans for actions in Afghanistan and the Israelis for actions against the Palestinians. Israel is not a member of the ICC and, along with the United States, rejects Palestinian membership because it is not a state.
Blinken said the United States views responsibility for atrocities as a national security interest and underscored U.S. support for other, often temporary, tribunals around the world.
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