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US Attacks Against The International Criminal Court A Threat To Judicial Independence – UN Experts

The unprecedented decision by the United States Government to target and sanction individual staff of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a direct attack to the institution’s judicial independence and could undermine victims’ access to justice, UN human rights experts* said today.

“The implementation of such policies by the US has the sole aim of exerting pressure on an institution whose role is to seek justice against crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression,” said Diego García-Sayán, the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. “It’s a further step in pressuring the ICC and coercing its officials in the context of independent and objective investigations and impartial judicial proceedings.”

Following a 5 March 2020 decision by the ICC’s Appeals Chamber, which authorised a probe of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan committed by all sides in the conflict, including American forces, the US Administration this month announced it was launching an economic and legal offensive against the Court.

On 11 June 2020, in response to the Appeals Chamber’s decision, the US President issued Executive Order 13928 on Blocking Property of Certain Persons Associated with the International Criminal Court. The US Government declared it would revoke or deny visas to members of the ICC involved in investigations against US troops in Afghanistan or elsewhere, and sanction any person “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”. US Attorney-General William Barr said the moves were aimed at “holding the ICC accountable for exceeding its mandate and violating the sovereignty of the United States”.

In December 2019, the US Administration had warned that it would “exact consequences” against the ICC for any “illegitimate” investigations into Israeli practices in the occupied Palestinian territory.

“The use of unilateral sanctions against international judges and international civil servants constitutes a clear violation not only of their privileges and immunities, but also of a broad spectrum of rights of the targeted individuals”, the experts said. “In particular, the enforcement of E.O. 13928 would result in the violation of the prohibition of punishment for acts that did not constitute criminal offences at the moment of their commission, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of movement and the right to privacy and family life.

“These threats constitute improper interference with the independence of the ICC and could also have potential adverse impacts on human rights defenders, civil society organisations and victims’ representatives who might be discouraged from cooperating with the ICC and, consequently, hinder the possibility of victims of atrocity crimes to access justice.”

The experts have been in contact with the US authorities on the issues.

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