U.S. Imposes Sanctions on ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

ICC slams 'unprecedented' sanctions, which it says aim to 'interfere with the Court's judicial and prosecutorial independence,' over investigations into alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan

Noa Landau
Reuters
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ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.
ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.Credit: Eva Plevier/Reuters
Noa Landau
Reuters

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, over her investigation into whether American forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Pompeo also said Phakiso Mochochoko, the head of the ICC's Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, had also been blacklisted under sanctions authorized by President Donald Trump in June that allow for asset freezes and travel bans.

"Today we take the next step, because the ICC continues to target Americans, sadly," Pompeo told reporters.

Pompeo also said that individuals and entities that continue to materially support Bensouda and Mochochoko would risk exposure to sanctions as well.

The State Department also restricted the issuance of visas for individuals Pompeo said were involved in the court's efforts to investigate U.S. personnel, though he did not name those affected.

The ICC strongly condemned the sanctions, calling them "another attempt to interfere with the Court's judicial and prosecutorial independence and crucial work to address grave crimes of concern to the international community."

"These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, 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 ICC said in a statement.

Bensouda was given the go-ahead by the court in March to investigate whether war crimes were committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghan military and U.S. forces.

The United States revoked Bensouda's entry visa last year over the possible Afghanistan inquiry. But under an agreement between the United Nations and Washington, she was still able to regularly travel to New York to brief the U.N. Security Council on cases it had referred to the court in The Hague.

In June, Trump issued an executive order to to impose sanctions on the ICC. The move was coordinated with Israel and discussed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

“Despite repeated calls by the United States and our allies to reform, the International Criminal Court has taken no action to reform itself and continues to pursue politically-motivated investigations against us and our allies, including Israel,” a White House statement read at the time.

Netanyahu congratulated the decision to impose sanctions on the "corrupt and biased International Criminal Court," calling it a "kangaroo court" and a "politicized court obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights."

Netanyahu accused the court of fabricating "outlandish charges," such as that "Jews living in their historic homeland constitutes a war crime."

Last year, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that there is reasonable basis to investigate Israel for its actions but has requested the court to decide over the question of jurisdiction. 

The Prosecutor's Office specifically noted allegations that Israel has been involved in demolishing Palestinian property and evicting Palestinians from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It also referenced 2014's Operation Protective Edge, the war in the Gaza Strip, as well as Israel's plan to evacuate residents of the Bedouin village Khan al-Ahmar, and Israeli construction of settlements in the West Bank.

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