Published On: Fri, Sep 21st, 2018

Trump Administration Threatens Sanctions Against International Criminal Court

Speaking on behalf the Trump Administration, on September 10 National Security Advisor John Bolton stated that the U.S. will use “any means necessary” to protect its citizens and allies from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Bolton further criticized the ICC as “illegitimate, ineffective and unaccountable,” and declared that it was “outright dangerous” and “contrary to American principles.”

Trump Administration

In terms of specific measures, Bolton said that the U.S. would ban the ICC’s financial system, and prosecute ICC officials in the U.S. criminal system. Any company, state or entity assisting an ICC investigation of an American citizen would also be subject to prosecution in the U.S.

Established in 2002 as part of the Rome Statute, the ICC (sometimes called the ICCt) is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal headquartered in The Hague. The organization is mandated to carry out investigations and prosecutions of individuals who are alleged to have committed genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity.

In a related move, Bolton also announced the closure of the PLO office in Washington, D.C., and stated that the U.S. would “not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel’s right to self defense.” The PLO office also served as the de facto Palestinian Embassy.

Reaction to Bolton’s announcements have been swift and defiant. On September 11 the ICC released a statement saying that that the court would remain “undeterred”, and continue its pursuit of “ensuring accountability for crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.”

The Palestinian Authority also released a statement on September 11 saying that it would not abandon its mandate or principles in light of the U.S.’s decision to close the PLO office, and that it would “maintain its commitment to the resolutions of international legitimacy”.

The timing of Bolton’s statements are also being called into question. According to Jamil Dakwar, the Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights program, the Trump Administration is taking a proactive stance in light of the widespread speculation that, for the first time ever, U.S. officials may be subject to a full criminal investigation for alleged activities in Afghanistan.

While there may be some merit in Dakwar’s analysis, this is not the first time that the U.S. has publicly blasted the ICC. From 2000-2008, the Bush Administration repeatedly criticized the ICC. The Clinton Administration was also wary of supporting the ICC, and only signed onto the Rome Treaty in the final hours, with the caveat that ratification would be unlikely.

As with all complex geopolitical issues, there is no clear sign — like a giant billboard or car wraps and graphics — that indicate how things will proceed. However, one thing that the Trump Administration has demonstrated beyond doubt to both supporters and detractors is that templates, protocols and norms used by past Administrations are irrelevant. We are in a new era. All bets are off, and everything is on the table.