US imposes sanctions on ICC chief prosecutor in 'stunning' and 'unprecedented' move

Josie Ensor
·2 min read

The Trump administration has imposed "unprecedented" sanctions on the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and one of her top aides for continuing to investigate war crime allegations against Americans.

Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, announced the moves as part of the administration's pushback against the tribunal, based in The Hague, for investigations into the US and its allies.

The sanctions include a freeze on assets held in the US or subject to US law and target prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the court's head of jurisdiction, Phakiso Mochochoko.

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

Ms 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 US forces.

Mr Pompeo had previously imposed a travel ban on Ms Bensouda and other tribunal employees because of its investigation into allegations of torture and other crimes by Americans in Afghanistan.

Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during the trial against former Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga - EPA
Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda during the trial against former Congolese militia leader Germain Katanga - EPA

Human rights groups and others have condemned the administration's moves against the court and Wednesday's announcement was immediately met with criticism.

Richard Dicker, the international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called it "a stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalise rights abusers and kleptocrats, to persecute those tasked with prosecuting international crimes."

"The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice," he said.

In March 2019, Mr Pompeo ordered the revocation or denial of visas to ICC staff seeking to investigate allegations of war crimes and other abuses by US forces in Afghanistan or elsewhere. He also said he might revoke the visas of those who seek action against Israel.

Katherine Gallagher, a human rights lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, described the move as “unprecedented”. “To see ICC prosecutors listed on OFAC (The Office of Foreign Assets Control) sanctions list bc (sic) of investigations of war crimes & crimes against humanity is simply incredible. Shame,” she tweeted.

“Pompeo said designations were being made because the #ICC ‘continues to target Americans.’ There has been NO movement in the investigation of US torture - at least that I as a legal representative has seen. Instead, Afghanistan situation is on hold, pending decision on deferral.”

Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur, wrote: “Speechless right now. I am. Sanctions against the Prosecutor of the ICC??”