Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Contempt for international justice

The International Criminal Court is the primary enforcer of international human rights law and norms against war crimes and crimes against humanity. So naturally, the United States is threatening its judges:

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.


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.

Afghanistan has been a party to the ICC since 2003, and any crimes against humanity that happen on its territory can be investigated or prosecuted by the court. The actions of US soldiers in Afghanistan are within the court's jurisdiction.

This is a clear attempt to interfere with the court's work and deter its investigation. If this happened in New Zealand, we'd call it contempt of court and perversion of the course of justice. But there are no similar powers on the international stage, nothing that signals to states that threatening international judges is beyond the pale. Clearly, we need to create some. As for the US, it is behaving more and more like a rogue state, and the international community needs to act to bring it back within the international legal order. Sanctions against US government officials like Bolton would be a good start...