The US has imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and a member of her office © Eva Plevier/Reuters

Washington is facing international condemnation after imposing sanctions on top International Criminal Court officials over the tribunal’s probe into alleged war crimes by US troops and others in Afghanistan.

The action constituted an attack on the rule of law and an interference with efforts to prosecute “grave crimes of concern to the international community”, the 123-country Hague-based tribunal said late on Wednesday night.

Washington announced earlier on Wednesday that it had imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and a member of her office. The move escalates a US campaign against the court over its investigation into crimes allegedly committed in Afghanistan by American forces, as well as Taliban fighters and Afghan national troops.

“These coercive acts . . . are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice and the rule of law more generally,” the court said in a statement. “The court continues to stand firmly by its personnel and its mission of fighting impunity for the world’s most serious crimes under international law, independently and impartially, in accordance with its mandate.”

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, said Washington — which is not a party to the court — had decided to activate the sanctions mechanism, first announced in June, “because the ICC continues to target Americans”.

He said individuals and entities providing support to Ms Bensouda and Phakiso Mochochoko, head of the ICC’s jurisdiction, complementarity and co-operation division, also risked being sanctioned.

Washington also opposes Ms Bensouda’s decision in December to start a probe into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, pending confirmation by the court that these lie within its jurisdiction.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, also criticised the move against the ICC, which was set up in 2002 as a court of last resort to pursue those accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The sanctions on the two officials were “unacceptable and unprecedented measures that attempt to obstruct the court’s investigations and judicial proceedings”, he said in a statement on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch, the US-based campaign group, said in a statement that Washington’s decision showed an “egregious disregard for victims of the world’s worst crimes”.

“The Trump administration’s perverse use of sanctions, devised for alleged terrorists and drug kingpins, against prosecutors seeking justice for grave international crimes, magnifies the failure of the US to prosecute torture,” said Richard Dicker, HRW’s international justice director.

Other countries including China, Russia and India have also never joined the court. The tribunal last year launched an independent expert review of its operations after criticism that it works inefficiently and has focused too little on powerful states and too much on African nations.

 

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