Washington wants the world to look into human rights abuse in other countries but is keen to halt the progress of any investigation delving into war crimes committed by Americans.
Are Americans above the law? US President Donald Trump thinks so.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order authorising sanctions and travel restrictions on the officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who are investigating potential war crimes committed during the Afghan conflict.
The US military, its intelligence officials, the Afghan government and the Taliban, have all been involved in the 19-year-old war in which thousands of civilians have been killed.
Given that the US sanctions can severely impact an individual’s ability to travel or use the international banking system, the decision severely handicaps the ICC.
“This destructive move by the Trump administration is the latest in a long campaign of hostility towards international institutions, including its recent decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization,” Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said in a statement.
“The ICC’s investigation is only necessary because the US has failed to meaningfully investigate or prosecute its own forces for human rights abuses.”
Even though the US never recognised the Hague-based ICC, it can still be investigated since Afghanistan ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty which led to the creation of the multinational court.
Trump's executive order says that sanctions also apply to ICC officials trying to investigate a US ally, a fairly obvious reference to Israel. The ICC is investigating the country for alleged crimes committed against Palestinians.
Rights groups look at sanctions as an act of American exceptionalism, or rather a dark manifestation of it, considering that Washington has time and again called for investigations into human rights abuses in Venezuela, Hong Kong and other countries.
The move comes after the Appeals Chamber of the ICC allowed the prosecutor to proceed with the probe in a unanimous decision earlier this year on March 5. Hundreds of Afghan victims have come forward to share their ordeals.
This is not the first time the US has targeted the ICC, an outfit that has played an important role in highlighting human rights abuses in Myanmar, Sudan and many other countries.
Last year, the US State Department revoked the visa of the ICC’s highly respected chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as it targeted lawyers who are part of investigations against US military personnel.
The involvement of the US military and the Central Investigation Agency (CIA) in illegal detention, extrajudicial murder of suspected militants and killing of civilians, is well documented.
Over the years, multiple reports by the media and international rights groups, have shed light on how US forces have used secret prisons, renditions and torture techniques inside Afghanistan to attain information from suspected militants. Due to a lack of evidence, many suspects were released.
The ICC was created to bring to trial those who orchestrated the genocides in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
The recent surrender of Ali Kosheib, a militia leader accused of killing civilians in Darfur, speaks of the important role the ICC is playing, says Human Rights Watch. Kosheib had been on the run for 13 years.
“It’s a bitter irony that even as the US seeks a peace deal in Afghanistan, it retaliates against those seeking justice for the horrific crimes in that conflict,” HRW’s international justice director, Richard Dicker, said in a statement.
“In Afghanistan and in Palestine, the ICC could play a valuable role in curbing impunity that has fueled abuses for decades.”
The ICC is not just investigating the US military but also Afghan government forces who are accused torture, as well as the Taliban, who have been behind deadly suicide bombings.
Under Trump’s leadership, the US has rebuked multinational institutions on a several occasions. In 2018, Washington withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council, which has now been approached by families of George Floyd and others to look into police abuse in the US.