June 23, 2020 / 5:58 PM / in 12 days

International Criminal Court members defend it in face of U.S. sanctions

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Over half the member states of the International Criminal Court defended the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal on Tuesday in a diplomatic response to a U.S. threat of sanctions against its employees earlier this month.

FILE PHOTO: The International Criminal Court building is seen in The Hague, Netherlands, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

A joint statement drafted by Costa Rica and Switzerland was backed by 67 out of 123 of the ICC’s members, the first effort to show a united front among members from all continents.

“We reconfirm our unwavering support for the court as an independent and impartial judicial institution,” it said. The ICC was an “integral part” of the international judicial order and “a central institution in the fight against impunity”.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration says it opposes the ICC because it fears what it calls politically motivated prosecutions of the United States and ally Israel.

Trump signed an executive order two weeks ago authorising the blocking of assets and travel restrictions against ICC employees involved in an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan by U.S. forces.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wants to investigate possible crimes committed between 2003 and 2014, including alleged mass killings of civilians by Taliban insurgents, as well as the alleged torture of prisoners by Afghan authorities and, to a lesser extent, by U.S. forces and the CIA. The ICC investigation was given the go-ahead in March.

In announcing Trump’s executive order, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court.”

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said the joint statement “sends the crucial message that ICC member states “have the court’s back” and “will not be cowed in their commitment to seeing justice.”

“This statement is highly significant because ICC member states globally, including key U.S. allies, are speaking up.”

The ICC is a court of last resort, stepping in only when a state is unable or unwilling to prosecute grave crimes.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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