In September 2020, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced sanctions enforced on ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, following her investigation into potential American war crimes conducted in Afghanistan.
The ICC’s Head of the Jurisdiction, Complementary and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko, was also placed under U.S. sanctions for assisting Bensouda in her investigation.
The ICC – an international court that investigates and tries genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes — granted Bensouda the authority to investigate alleged crimes committed in Afghanistan by the Taliban, Afghani forces, and U.S. forces in March 2020.
Though the Biden administration lifted sanctions against the court officials, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reinforced the U.S.’s position, rejecting the ICC’s allegations.
“These decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective,” Blinken said in a Friday statement. But he added, “We continue to disagree strongly with the ICC’s actions relating to the Afghanistan and Palestinian situations.”
The secretary of state said it is the Biden administration’s belief that engaging with the ICC is a better way to address their grievances regarding the investigation, rather than through sanctioning.
The administration’s policy reversal will likely please European allies that Biden has vowed to strengthen ties with.
But Blinken’s comments maintain the U.S.’s historical skepticism towards the international court, whose jurisdiction the U.S. does not accept.
Just last month the U.S. condemned the ICC’s decision to investigate Israeli actions against Palestine. Israel does not accept ICC jurisdiction either.
“We maintain our longstanding objection to the Court’s efforts to assert jurisdiction over personnel of non-States Parties such as the United States and Israel,” Blinken said.
The Biden administration’s stance towards the ICC, though a reversal from the Trump administration, has been met with condemnation by far-left Democrats, like Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who said the U.S. should not interfere with the court’s ability to “independently and impartially investigate” human rights abuses.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., applauded the sanction removal Friday, saying “The staff of the International Criminal Court are public servants who dedicate their life to enforcing the most heinous crimes imaginable.”
“If we are to live up to our values of respect for human rights and democratic norms, United States should be leading the pursuit of international justice, not blocking it,” she said in a statement.