US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slaps sanctions on top prosecutor of International Criminal Court – a decision The Hague-based tribunal called a "serious" attack against the rule of law."

Economic sanctions against Fatou Bensouda and another ICC official, after earlier visa bans on Bensouda and others failed to head off court's war crimes probe into US military personnel in Afghanistan.
Economic sanctions against Fatou Bensouda and another ICC official, after earlier visa bans on Bensouda and others failed to head off court's war crimes probe into US military personnel in Afghanistan. (AA)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced sanctions on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, objecting to an investigation of US soldiers for "war crimes" in Afghanistan.

Also added to the US sanctions blacklist was Phakiso Mochochoko, director of the ICC's Jurisdiction, Complementary and Cooperation Division, for "having materially assisted prosecutor Bensouda," Pompeo said.

"Today we take the next step, because the ICC continues to target Americans, sadly," he said.

He added that visa restrictions and broader sanctions could be applied to those helping Bensouda and Mochochoko.

The investigation into alleged wartime atrocities in Afghanistan possibly involving US military and civilian officials has turned Washington's low-level opposition into a concerted campaign against the institution.

'Kangaroo court'

The move came after President Donald Trump authorised sanctions on the Hague-based tribunal on June 11 for probing and prosecuting US troops.

Pompeo at the time referred to the ICC as a "kangaroo court" and warned that if US soldiers are investigated by it, those of US allies in Afghanistan risk the same threat.

The sanctions were announced just two months before US elections, in which Trump is running in part on his record of standing up to international institutions which don't bow to US demands.

But Washington's move also added to the broader pressure on the ICC to shore up its legitimacy, 18 years after it was founded to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

The United States, like Russia, China, Israel, Syria and a number of other countries, is not a member of the ICC, and its opposition to the court is longstanding.

In 2002 the US Congress even passed the so-called "Hague Invasion Act" allowing the US president to authorise military force to free any US personnel held by the ICC, in theory making an invasion of Dutch shores a possibility.

READ MORE: US threatens to arrest ICC judges who probe war crimes

'New low'

The United States argues that it has its own procedures in place to investigate accusations against troops.

Trump, however, used his executive powers last year to clear three military members over war crimes, including in Afghanistan.

Also underpinning Washington's enmity is the ICC's investigation into alleged war crimes by US ally Israel against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza.

Rights groups immediately condemned the US designations.

Richard Dicker, Human Rights Watch international justice director, said it was a "stunning perversion of US sanctions."

Balkees Jarrah, senior counsel at HRW, said the sanctions "Marks a shameful new low for US commitments to justice for victims of the worst crimes."

READ MORE: American exceptionalism at its finest as Trump sanctions the ICC

Attack on rule of law

The Hague-based tribunal said the sanctions announced were "serious attacks" against the rule of law.

"The International Criminal Court condemns the economic sanctions imposed by the US earlier today on the court's prosecutor and a member of her office," an ICC statement said.

"These coercive acts, directed at an international judicial institution and its civil servants, are unprecedented and constitute serious attacks against the court, the Rome Statute system of international criminal justice, and the rule of law more generally."

The war crimes court said it "continues to stand firmly by its personnel and its mission of fighting impunity for the world's most serious crimes."

'Unacceptable measures'

The ICC was founded by the Rome Statute, which entered into force in 2002, and has since been signed by 123 countries.

The head of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties, which groups the court's member countries, said separately that it would meet to discuss how to support the tribunal in the face of the US measures.

"I strongly reject such unprecedented and unacceptable measures against a treaty-based international organisation," said assembly president O-Gon Kwon.

"They only serve to weaken our common endeavour to fight impunity for mass atrocities."

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies