September 10, 2018
US national security adviser calls ICC illegitimate and says ‘we will let it die on its own’
John Bolton threatens war crimes court with sanctions in virulent attack
John Bolton, the hawkish US national security adviser, has threatened the international criminal court (ICC) with sanctions and made an excoriating attack on the institution in a speech in Washington.
Bolton pushed for sanctions over an ICC investigation into alleged American war crimes in Afghanistan. He also announced on Monday the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington because of its calls for an ICC inquiry into Israel.
“The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court,” Bolton said.
He said the Trump administration would “fight back” and impose sanctions – even seeking to criminally prosecute ICC officials – if the court formally proceeded with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US military and intelligence staff during the war in Afghanistan or pursued any investigation into Israel or other US allies.
Bolton vowed that the United States would retaliate by banning ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, imposing sanctions on any funds they had in the States and prosecuting them in the American court system.
“If the court comes after us, Israel, or other US allies we will not sit quietly,” he said, also threatening to impose the same sanctions on any country that aided the investigation.
He condemned the inquiry into war crimes in Afghanistan as an “utterly unfounded, unjustifiable investigation” and the court as illegitimate.
“We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead,” Bolton said.
He said the US would negotiate more binding, bilateral agreements to prohibit countries from surrendering Americans to the court in The Hague.
David Scheffer, who established the ICC on behalf of the US and served as the country’s ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, said: “The Bolton speech today isolates the United States from international criminal justice and severely undermines our leadership in bringing perpetrators of atrocity crimes to justice elsewhere in the world.
“The double standard set forth in his speech will likely play well with authoritarian regimes, which will resist accountability for atrocity crimes and ignore international efforts to advance the rule of law. This was a speech soaked in fear and Bolton sounded the message, once again, that the United States is intimidated by international law and multilateral organizations. I saw not strength but weakness conveyed today by the Trump Administration.”
The senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed that a US official had notified the Palestinian leadership that its diplomatic mission in Washington DC would be closed.
The move follows a year of US action seen as detrimental to Palestinians, most recently the slashing of hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance. Trump has said the cuts were to pressure the Palestinians to make a peace deal, although his administration has not announced any specific efforts.
Erekat said: “This is yet another affirmation of the Trump administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people.” He added that Palestinian authorities were taking “necessary measures to protect the rights of our citizens living in the United States to access their consular services”.
“We reiterate that the rights of the Palestinian people are not for sale, that we will not succumb to US threats and bullying and that we will continue our legitimate struggle for freedom, justice, and independence, including by all political and legal means possible,” he said.
The UN-backed ICC’s remit is to bring to justice the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The US did not ratify the Rome treaty that established the court in 2002. The then president George W Bush was strongly opposed to the court. President Barack Obama subsequently took measures to improve cooperation with it.
“We will consider taking steps in the UN security council to constrain the court’s sweeping powers, including to ensure that the ICC does not exercise jurisdiction over Americans and the nationals of our allies that have not ratified the Rome statute,” Bolton said.
In May, Trump opened a US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, ending decades of consensus that the contested city’s status should be decided in future negotiations, as Palestinians claim its eastern parts while Israel claims the entire city as its capital.
The embassy opening prompted the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to reject Washington’s traditional role as a mediator, recalling his envoy to the US and stopping communication.
Days later, the Palestinian foreign minister asked the ICC chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to open an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity, and apartheid. The referral came during a period of heightened bloodshed in Gaza as Israeli snipers shot hundreds of people attending weekly protests.
Israel is not a signatory to the ICC and has said the body lacks jurisdiction. The ICC launched a preliminary examination in 2015 into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel and the Palestinian territories. However, the court has not opened a full investigation that could ultimately lead to indictments.
“We will not allow the ICC or any other organisation to constrain Israel’s right to self-defence,” Bolton said on Monday.
A spokesman for the ICC said earlier on Monday: “The international criminal court is aware of media reports of the speech scheduled to be delivered by US national security adviser, Mr John Bolton, later today concerning the ICC.
“The Rome statute, the court’s founding treaty, today benefits from the membership of 123 states parties representing all regions of the world. The ICC, as a judicial institution, acts strictly within the legal framework of the Rome statute and is committed to the independent and impartial exercise of its mandate.”
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