(Washington, DC) Cancellation of punitive sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) by US President Joe Bidens removes a serious hurdle for courts to bring justice to victims of the world’s worst crimes, Human Rights Watch said today . On April 2, 2021, Biden revoked a June 2020 order from then-President Donald Trump, authorizing asset freezes and entry bans to thwart the work of the ICC.
Announcing the repeal of the decree, State Secretary Antony Blinken said that [t]These decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective. The State Department also lifted existing visa restrictions.
The perverse sanctions against the ICC by the Trump administrations have shown complete disregard for victims of serious international crimes and prosecutors who seek to hold those responsible to account, said Richard Dicker, director of international justice at Human Rights Watch. By removing this unprecedented threat to the global rule of law, President Biden has begun the long process of restoring the credibility of the United States in international justice through the ICC.
The Trump administration put the sweeping executive order into effect in September, when it imposed sanctions on the court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, and another senior official, Phakiso Mochochoko. He has repeatedly threatened to act to thwart ICC investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine. In 2019, the Trump administration revoked the visas of US prosecutors.
Human Rights Watch had urged the Biden administration to overturn Trumps’ executive order as a matter of priority. The order of the Trump administrations posed a threat to the global rule of law and the courts are striving to bring justice to the victims.
It has also created apprehension and uncertainty for non-governmental organizations, consultants and lawyers who work with the ICC on investigation and trial. Several academics and practitioners who have provided expertise to the Office of the Prosecutor or represented victims in court have challenged the constitutionality of the decree in two lawsuits in a US federal court.
Several US lawmakers have spoken out after the order was used to sanction the two ICC officials, as well as ICC member countries, the European Union, and non-governmental organizations in the United States and around the world. Significantly, ICC member countries have repeatedly affirmed their collective support for the court, including at their last annual meeting in December.
Even in repealing the order, the Biden administration made it clear that it continued to oppose the actions of the ICC in the situations in Afghanistan and Palestine. In response to the ICC prosecutor’s decision in March to open an investigation into Palestine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated US opposition to such an investigation, challenging the jurisdiction of the courts over the situation. . Prosecutors’ investigation offers a long-awaited path to justice for Palestinian and Israeli victims of grave international crimes, Human Rights Watch said.
ICC member countries should learn from the repealed decrees and express their support for the court. The countries that created the ICC must stand ready to protect its crucial role from any action to undermine its independence as a tribunal, Human Rights Watch said.
With punitive sanctions no longer in place, the US government should review its future engagement with the ICC. A spokesperson for the US State Department had previously indicated that the administration may consider resuming cooperation with the tribunal in exceptional cases. While differences will remain between Washington and the court, the Biden administration is expected to seek regularized cooperation with the ICC. Justice through the ICC can advance important American political interests, as demonstrated by the February 4 conviction of Dominic Ongwen, a former leader of the brutal Lords resistance army. The Ongwen case highlighted the very constructive role the United States can play in providing critical support to his surrender to court in 2015.
While the United States should work to join the founding tribunals of the treaty, the Rome Statute, even as a non-member, can advance ICC cases by providing evidence, cooperating in the arrest of fugitives. , calling for and endorsing the actions of the United Nations Security Council in support of the Court. , and initiate discussions at the Assembly of States Parties which includes the 123 member countries of the ICC.
The ICC has its limits, but its role as a court of last resort for the worst crimes is needed more than ever, Dicker said. The Biden administration should support the ICC to ensure that victims have a chance to obtain justice and that cooperation should be the rule, not the exception.
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