United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on March 15 the U.S. is now revoking and denying visas to members of the International Criminal Court seeking to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda first requested to investigate potential war crimes committed by U.S. personnel in November 2018. The request was specifically focused on crimes in Afghanistan committed by U.S. military or private security companies. The Palestinian government has also requested the court investigate and potentially prosecute crimes in Israel.
Bensouda’s request is to investigate information that U.S. personnel “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003–2004 period.” He submitted the request to the ICC in November 2018.
This is not the first time the U.S. has dealt with ICC regarding this issue. In September 2018, National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed the court is a direct threat to U.S. national security interests.
Bolton said the U.S. will fight back if the ICC pursues the investigation. He also threatened to prosecute ICC members as well as impose economic sanctions on member countries. “If the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies we will not sit quietly,” Bolton said.
At a press conference on March 15, Pompeo said any unlawful act committed by American personnel would be investigated and prosecuted by U.S. military and criminal courts.
“I’m announcing a policy of U.S. visa restriction on those individuals directly responsible for any ICC investigation of U.S. personnel,” Pompeo said at the press conference. “This includes persons who take or have taken action to request or further such an investigation. These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel, including Israelis, without allies’ consent.”
“If you’re responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of U.S. personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan, you should not assume that you will still have or will get a visa or that you will be permitted to enter the U.S.,” Pompeo continued.
Pompeo went on to claim visas are already being revoked and blocked but cited visa privacy laws when he refused to disclose how many or whose visas were included. Supporters of the ICC criticized Pompeo’s statement, arguing the court should continue to pursue the investigation.
“The U.S. decision to put visa bans on ICC staff is an outrageous effort to bully the court and deter scrutiny of U.S. conduct,” Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch said. “ICC member countries should publicly make clear that they will remain undaunted in their support for the ICC and will not tolerate U.S. obstruction.”
The ICC was created to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is only active in countries that have agreed to be a part of the court and have signed the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute is the document which created the ICC in 2002.
The U.S. is not one of the 123 members of the ICC—the Senate never ratified the country’s ICC membership despite having signed the Rome Statute in 2002. The Rome Statute was the document that created the ICC.
The ICC issued a written statement soon after Pompeo’s press conference stating they would continue to pursue the investigation into the U.S., Afghanistan and Israel.
“The court is an independent and impartial judicial institution crucial for ensuring accountability for the gravest of crimes under international law,” the statement said. “The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law.”
At his press conference, Pompeo promised the U.S. will continue to oppose the ICC’s investigations.
“The U.S. will implement these measures consistent with applicable law, including our obligations under the United National Headquarters Agreement,” Pompeo said. “These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts. We are prepared to take additional steps, including economic sanctions if the ICC does not change its course.”