U.S. sanctions against top officials of the International Criminal Court are hindering its ability to seek justice for victims of some of the world’s most serious crimes, the home of the court’s chief prosecutor said in a statement.
Fatou Bensouda’s native Gambia urged the U.S. to reverse sanctions on her and her top aide, Phakiso Mochochoko, announced on Sept. 2 because of the court’s decision last year to reopen an investigation into allegations that American military and intelligence officials tortured detainees in Afghanistan.
“The Government of The Gambia expresses its dismay over the announcement,” the West African nation’s foreign affairs ministry said in a Sept. 5 statement. “These acts constitute gross interference on the mandate, independence and impartiality of the Court in the fight against impunity for perpetrators of the most serious crimes of international concern.”
The sanctions are the latest attack on the legitimacy of the Hague-based institution seen as a “court of last resort” for victims of genocide, war crimes and other atrocities. Kenya led a diplomatic campaign to have African nations withdraw from the court after President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, faced trial in 2013 on accusations of stirring up post-election violence. Its proposal was backed by the African Union in 2016, when all but one of the 10 cases the ICC was considering were in African countries.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and other senior administration officials have long complained about the ICC, which they view as a symbol of globalist overreach and unjust interference in American affairs. The U.S. has never been a party to the ICC, although the Obama administration cooperated with some cases.
The U.S. sanctions, which President Donald Trump authorized in June, include a freeze of the top officials’ assets held in the U.S.
“Even though previous U.S. administrations have pushed back against the court, none of them has gone this far in trying to undermine the court,” said Oumar Ba, who’s authored a book on the institution and teaches political science at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. “Among all the people working at the court and in the prosecutor’s office, the two individuals the U.S. is targeting are the two black Africans, so there is some racial dynamic playing into this decision as well.”
Gambia urged the U.S. “to reverse the sanctions,” echoing an earlier call by France to do the same. Germany, the U.K. and Canada are among other countries who’ve condemned the U.S. move. Before last week’s announcement, the ICC defended its officials, calling the plan “an attack against the interest of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice.”
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