Updated Jun 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump targets International Criminal Court for sanctions over war crimes probe

President Trump sitting down at a roundtable discussion
Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday authorizing economic sanctions and travel restrictions against workers from the International Criminal Court who are investigating American troops and intelligence officials for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.

Why it matters: This is the ICC's first investigation of U.S. forces, and both Afghan and U.S. officials oppose it. The U.S. does not formally recognize the jurisdiction of the court, and the Trump administration is refusing to cooperate with the investigation.

Yes, but: The ICC is moving forward with the investigation even without U.S. cooperation.

The big picture: This executive order is also the latest in a series of attacks against international organizations, treaties and agreements by the Trump administration, AP notes.

  • Trump has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, ended cooperation with the World Health Organization and pulled out of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement:

"The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty...in practice it has been an unaccountable and ineffective international bureaucracy that targets and threatens United States personnel as well as personnel of our allies and partners."

The ICC responded to Trump's sanctions on Friday, saying it "stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate," AP reports.

  • The court also said: "an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice.”

Context: Fatou Bensouda, the ICC's chief prosecutor, requested that the court open investigations into U.S. forces in 2017, arguing that it had enough evidence to prove that they had "committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence" in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.

Zoom out: The U.S. had also attempted to deter the ICC from pursuing legal proceedings over alleged Israeli war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, Axios contributor Barak Ravid reports.

  • The White House blamed the court for pursuing “politically-motivated investigations against us and our allies, including Israel” and added that “adversary nations are manipulating the International Criminal Court by encouraging these allegations against United States personnel."
  • "We are concerned foreign powers, like Russia, are also manipulating the ICC for their own agenda," Attorney General Bill Barr said at a press conference. He did not elaborate.
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