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US Official Threatens International Criminal Court – Again

Secretary of State Pompeo Riled by Possible Palestine Investigation

Then-Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 13, 2018.  © 2018 Reuters

United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo once again threatened the International Criminal Court (ICC), this time saying the Trump administration will “exact consequences” if the ICC “continues down its current course” – that is, if the court moves forward with an investigation of possible war crimes committed on Palestinian territory.

A decision that could pave the way for an investigation of serious crimes by Israelis and Palestinians is pending before the ICC’s judges, who have been asked by the ICC prosecutor to confirm the court’s jurisdiction there. Palestine has ratified the court’s treaty, while Israel has not.

Pompeo’s May 15 statement termed the ICC a “political body” when it is instead a global court of last resort for serious international crimes. In March, Pompeo threatened to take action against ICC staff and their families in response to the opening of an investigation into crimes committed in and around Afghanistan. That probe could include scrutiny of serious abuses by Afghan nationals and could also touch on serious abuses by US military and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) personnel committed on Afghan soil or in other ICC member countries. These abuses have not been addressed by any meaningful action in US courts. The US, which is not an ICC member, earlier revoked the ICC prosecutor’s visa and threatened economic sanctions. Pompeo may have been bolstered by last week’s letters from members of Congress calling on him to work to see a stop to these ICC investigations.  

Pompeo’s rhetoric against the court reflects the Trump administration’s broader hostility to the international legal framework. The ICC’s 123 member countries should challenge Pompeo’s toxic narrative on the court. Israeli and Palestinian authorities have for years failed to credibly investigate alleged war crimes and hold those responsible to account. If ICC judges confirm the court’s mandate there, it could provide an opening to check this impunity. The member countries should make clear their support for the ICC’s independence and its mandate to act impartially to deliver accountability. Victims should know that their pursuit of justice will be met by a commitment to the rule-of-law. 

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