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USA Sanctions Against the International Criminal Court

  • 16 Jun 2020
  • 7 min read

Why in News

Recently, the USA has authorised sanctions against International Criminal Court (ICC) officials involved in investigations into possible war crimes by USA troops and its allies.

Key Points

  • The Sanction:
    • Under it, any individuals who have directly engaged in any effort by the ICC to investigate, arrest, detain, or prosecute any United States personnel without the consent of the United States or have attempted the same against the USA ally may be subject to sanctions.
    • It has broadened the visa restrictions on ICC officials or anyone who has sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support to them.
    • The restrictions also extend to the officials’ family members.
    • The economic sanctions would be decided on a case-by-case basis.
    • Israel supported the decision as it accused the ICC of fabricating charges against the country.
  • The USA’s Stand:
    • The USA has considered the ICC a threat to USA sovereignty, and announced the strict punitive measures that are generally reserved for use against terror groups and those accused of abusing human rights.
    • It has called the 123 nations-strong tribunal a “kangaroo court”.
    • It blamed the ICC office for financial corruption and maladministration.
    • It has also blamed Russia for manipulating the ICC in its favour.
  • The ICC’s Stand:
    • The ICC supported its officials, and called the sanction as an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law.
    • It said the sanction represents an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes.
  • Reactions Against the Sanction:
    • The United Nations had taken serious note about the USA order.
    • The European Union called the USA decision a matter of serious concern.
    • The international NGO Human Rights Watch has observed that by penalising war crimes investigators, the USA is openly siding with those who commit and cover up human rights abuses.


  • The Bill Clinton administration (1993-2001) was involved in Rome Statute negotiations, and signed the document in 2000.
    • The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (International Criminal Court Statute) is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC).
  • However, the next president, George W. Bush in 2002 had unsigned the Statute and signed into law the American Service-Members’ Protection Act to protect the USA nationals from the ICC’s reach.
  • The USA adopted a positive approach towards the forum during several instances– in 2005 it did not veto a UN Security Council request to the ICC to investigate crimes during the Darfur crisis (Sudan) and in 2011 voted for Libya’s referral to the court.
    • It also provided critical support in transferring suspects from Africa to the ICC for trial.
  • However, in the UN General Assembly in 2018, the USA decided that it would not support or recognize the International Criminal Court.
    • According to it, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority.
  • In 2020, the ICC asked for a formal probe into alleged atrocities committed during the Afghanistan War between 2003 and 2014– leading to possible charge against the USA military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA-USA’s agency) officials.

The International Criminal Court

  • It is a permanent judicial body created by the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (its founding and governing document), and began functioning on 1st July 2002 when the Statute came into force.
  • Headquarter: The Hague, Netherlands
  • Members:
    • 123 nations are States Parties to the Rome Statute and recognise the ICC’s authority.
    • The USA, China, Russia, and India are not the members.
  • The forum was established as a court of last resort to prosecute offences that would otherwise go unpunished, and has jurisdiction over four main crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
  • Difference between ICC and ICJ:
    • Unlike the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the ICC is not part of the United Nations system, with the UN-ICC relationship being governed by a separate agreement.
    • The ICJ, which is among the UN’s 6 principal organs, mainly hears disputes between nations. It was established in 1945 and is seated at The Hague (Netherlands). Judge Dalveer Bhandari (India) is a member of the Court.
    • The ICC, on the other hand, prosecutes individuals– its authority extending to offences committed in a member state or by a national of such a state.

Way Forward

  • Several countries have expressed that the sanction is a challenge to multilateralism and judicial independence of the ICC.
  • The independence of the ICC and its ability to operate without interference must be guaranteed so that it can decide matters without any influence or pressures.
  • Earlier, the ICC has been criticised for not pursuing investigations in Western countries as well as for working inefficiently. There is a need for an independent expert review of its own functioning to address these concerns.

Source: IE

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